The restriction measures to prevent Omicron infections in England’s care homes will be lifted on Monday, 47 days after they were brought in.
The government made the announcement on Thursday, as most society-wide legal restrictions are no longer in place.
From Jan. 31, the limit on the number of visitors allowed into care homes will be removed, self-isolation periods will be shortened, and the duration care homes have to follow outbreak management rules will be halved to 14 days.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) hailed a vaccination “booster success” as the reason that the measures can be lifted.
Since Dec. 15, 2021, care home residents have been limited to having one nominated essential caregiver and up to three regular visitors. All staff and essential caregivers had to take weekly PCR tests and at least three lateral flow device (LFD) tests, and other visitors were required to take an LFD test on the day of visiting and report the result to the care home they’re visiting. The measures were imposed as protection against the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.
On Monday, the limitation on the number of visitors will be removed, and by Feb. 16, care home workers will be asked to take LFD tests before their shifts instead of taking weekly PCR tests.
All frontline care home workers are fully vaccinated as the group has been subject to a vaccination mandate since November.
A 14-day isolation period is currently required for care home residents who test positive for the CCP virus, or return from an emergency hospital visit or other “high-risk” visits, and for unvaccinated residents who return from a normal day out. Vaccinated residents and residents exempt from vaccination can follow a testing regime instead of isolating.
On Monday, the self-isolation period for positive cases will be cut to 10 days, with the option of ending on day six if people test negative twice on days five and six. This will be in line with the self-isolation period for the general public.
Following an emergency hospital visit or other “high-risk” visits, care home residents will have to isolate for 10 days instead of 14 days. And the isolation or testing rule is being scrapped for those having a normal day out.
In addition, after a CCP virus outbreak, defined as two or more cases, care homes will only be required to follow outbreak management rules for 14 days after the last positive case instead of 28 days, as Omicron is no longer considered a “particular variant which requires additional mitigations.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “I know how vital companionship is to those living in care homes and the positive difference visits make, which is why we continued to allow three named visitors and an essential care giver under Plan B measures.
“Thanks to the progress we have made, I am delighted that care home restrictions can now be eased further, allowing residents to see more of their loved ones.”
Care minister Gillian Keegan said she attributed the progress to “the continued success of the vaccine rollout.”
According to the DHSC, 86.5 percent of all care home residents have now received a booster dose of a CCP virus vaccine.
A booster shot “provides maximum protection against Omicron, with the latest data from the UK Health Security Agency showing it is 92 percent effective in preventing hospitalisation two weeks after it is administered,” the DHSC said in a statement.
The UK government is set to publish a “living with COVID plan” in spring as it pivots to booster vaccines and antiviral drugs, and away from lockdowns.
Two antibody and antiviral treatments, sotrovimab and molnupiravir, have been approved recently and are available for people in high-risk groups.
But no other early treatment for COVID-19 has yet been recommended by the NHS, except for taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat high temperatures and honey for coughs.