Changes to hospital and care home visits will take effect from Friday 7 May, the Health Minister Robin Swann has announced.
The new rules will allow every patient in hospital in Northern Ireland to have one daily visit from at least one person.
The number of allowed visits to care homes will also increase to two per week.
The new arrangements are subject to change depending on the Covid-19 infection rates.
Speaking about the changes, the Health Minister said: “I fully recognise the importance of visiting for those who are receiving care. I hope this guidance will be widely welcomed. “It is also important to remember that the threat from COVID-19 remains very real. Everyone has a vital role to play when it comes to safe visiting. That includes social distancing, hand hygiene and not visiting if you are feeling unwell yourself," Mr Swann added. “Visiting was only ever restricted because it was absolutely necessary to do so to protect patients and residents from the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus and subsequent development of COVID-19 infection.
"Given the progress that has been made against the virus, the time is now right to take steps to carefully re-introduce visiting.”
The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, has welcomed new visiting guidance for care homes. “I welcome the Pathway published today, which will safely permit increased visits between families, enabling care home residents to have more regular, meaningful face-to-face contact with their loved ones over the coming weeks and months. “The importance of having frequent, personal contact with family and the impact this has on the health and wellbeing of older people, is well documented.
"I recently raised the urgent need to reconnect residents with their loved ones and today’s announcement by Minister Swann is a welcome step in the right direction. “I understand there will be some people who feel that the scale and pace of change is not quick enough, however I believe this pathway offers a balanced and measured approach where visitation rights are being increased at a pace proportionate to the level of risk. "I ask that all care homes in Northern Ireland adhere to the new guidance to ensure that families are being granted the number of visits they are entitled to and I would continue to ask families to get in touch with my office if that is not the case.”