People in care homes are set to be reunited with family members after the government said visits will once again be allowed.
Care home visits, which had been halted during the coronavirus crisis, will resume once local officials decide it is safe to do so.
The government published new guidance on Wednesday for how care homes can restart visits while also limiting the risk of further COVID-19 outbreaks.
Risk assessments will be done prior to homes being reopened and, should visits then be allowed, visitors will be encouraged to wear face coverings as well as gloves and aprons, if necessary.
Care homes are also being urged to consider whether visits can take place in communal gardens or outdoor areas.
In order to limit the overall number of visitors and the risk of infection to a care home, the government said visits should be limited to a single constant visitor – such as a son, daughter or wife – per resident, wherever possible.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how painful it has been for those in care homes not being able to receive visits from their loved ones throughout this period.
“We are now able to carefully and safely allow visits to care homes, which will be based on local knowledge and circumstances for each care home.
“It is really important that we don’t undo all of the hard work of care homes over the last few months while ensuring families and friends can be safely reunited, so we have put in place guidance that protects everyone.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said local directors of public health, along with local authorities, will lead the decision-making process on resuming care home visits in their local areas.
They will consider local rates of COVID-19 transmission and the needs of individual care home residents.
Care homes are being asked to keep a temporary record, including addresses and telephone numbers, of current and previous residents, staff and visitors as part of the NHS test and trace scheme.
Those wishing to plan a visit are being asked to first speak to the relevant care home.
Care homes are being encouraged to set up a booking system for visitors and are urged not to permit ad hoc visits.
Lisa Lenton, chair of the Care Provider Alliance, said: “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll in many ways.
“The effect of not being able to see friends and family has been very difficult and very upsetting for many – both for the people who access care and support, and for their loved ones who have been isolated.
“The Care Provider Alliance welcomes this overdue guidance – the CPA has been calling for government guidance for many weeks and released its own visitors protocol last month in its absence.
“People need people and this is such an important step for the wellbeing of individuals and their relatives.”