Matt Hancock vows to ring-fence Covid swabs so families can visit relatives in care homes at Christmas

NO10 HAS vowed to ring-fence Covid swabs to ensure families can visit their relatives in care homes this Christmas.

Matt Hancock tonight offered hope to millions – days after campaigners said 'loneliness can kill' as vulnerable people begin to give up hope.

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The Health Secretary says a pilot scheme at 20 homes will end the need for ‘prison-style’ plastic screens.

Earlier this month, as England's new lockdown began, the Government said care home visits could only take place outside, through windows or in PPE-covered pods.

But tonight, the Department of Health confirmed a new scheme will start on Monday, with the aim of allowing indoor visits.

It could also let residents have physical contact with loved ones.

Key visitors will be tested weekly at 20 locations across Hampshire, Cornwall and Devon.

However, care home bosses have pleaded with ministers to roll out rapid tests to all sites immediately.

Across the country, Brits in homes have been barred from meaningful contact for the past eight months. The rules have left them unable to hug or hold hands with loved ones.

The most vulnerable have been told they can only wave at husbands, wives or children through windows.

And there are those who haven't been able to see loved ones at all.

Nadra Ahmed of the National Care Association told MailOnline: "Every day without tests is another lost opportunity for people who haven’t got long left in life to see their families.

"There is no reason why these tests couldn’t be made available to all care homes tomorrow."

Mr Hancock said: "We want care homes to do everything in their power to help residents see the ones they love."

Of the pilot scheme, he said: "Crucially, this will mean people can visit their loved ones indoors and without screens, safe in the knowledge they are free from the virus.

"If we prove that these faster tests work in these circumstances I am clear that we will ring-fence supply to help open up more chances for visiting.

"We want to learn as many lessons from the programme as possible, so we can offer this chance to even more visitors and residents of care homes around the country into December and before Christmas."

Just 60,000 tests would be required each day for every care home resident to have one meaningful face-to-face visit each week, campaigners say.

Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the tests were now so quick "that visitors could just sit in the car park or get a cup of tea while waiting to find out if they are positive, then they could come inside for safe visits".

Around 411,000 people live in homes in the UK, and campaigners warn of deaths through 'loneliness and lack of love'.

Earlier this month, an ex-Coronation Street actress filmed the moment her mum was arrested after wheeling her 97-year-old gran from a care home before England's second national lockdown took hold.

Meanwhile, a care home called the police after a 75-year-old woman went to get her husband following eight months apart.

Patricia Hodges had been denied visits to her 83-year-old husband Graham at Wayside House in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

When she went to the home on October 28 to remove her husband from its care, chiefs called police.

And faced with the idea of never seeing husband Kenneth Meredith, 96, again his wife of 71 years moved into a care home with him.

Mr Meredith moved into the Bourn View care home in Birmingham five weeks ago because he has dementia.

As a result of the lockdown, wife Betty decided to move in too – as she was so worried she'd never again be able to visit.

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