No limits on care home visits from today is good news but health chief warns of extra risks for Northamptonshire's most vulnerable

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Restrictions lifted as county still seeing outbreaks and more than 10,000 new cases a week

Care charities and health chiefs are warning against a Covid complacent free-for-all when restrictions on care home visits are lifted on Monday (January 31).

Ministers confirmed on Thursday (January 28) that limits on the number of visitors put in place to help prevent the spread of Omicron in adult social care will be removed following the success of the booster programme.

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It says 86.5 percent of all care home residents in England have had a booster jab which, according to UK Health Security Agency data, is 92 percent effective in preventing hospitalisations two weeks after it is administered.

Restrictions limiting care home visits are lifted from MondayRestrictions limiting care home visits are lifted from Monday
Restrictions limiting care home visits are lifted from Monday

Full new guidance had still to be published and passed on to care homes by Sunday night (January 30).

But the move comes at a time when coronavirus outbreaks have been reported in 41 of the county's 250 care settings involving 464 people over the last two weeks, according to the latest Covid surveillance report from Public Health Northamptonshire.

Northampton and Corby are both currently in the top ten areas of England with the highest infection rates with more than 10,000 positive tests county-wide during the last week.

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Northamptonshire's director of public health, Lucy Wightman, warned: "It's good news because I know lots of people are desperate to see relatives but we can't put the more vulnerable residents in our society under any additional risk.

“Visiting is a central part of care home life. It is crucial for maintaining the health, wellbeing and quality of life of residents.

"It’s also vital for family and friends to maintain contact and life-long relationships with their loved ones and contribute to their support and care.

"But we need to make sure we take personal responsibility when we go into those more vulnerable settings.

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"Testing is going to be key now people will be able to visit in greater numbers.

"Although we have seen an increase in care home outbreaks in recent weeks, the vast majority of these have been picked up by routine testing of staff and residents which means they are identified early and contained.

"Case rates in the community remain high so it is vitally important that all visitors follow testing procedures, take a lateral flow test immediately before visiting and following infection protection guidance."

The government has said that self-isolation periods for those testing positive will be cut and that homes will need to follow outbreak management rules for 14 days rather than four weeks.

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Gavin Terry, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This will come as a huge relief to thousands of families across the country who have had to jump through too many hoops just to see their loved ones when they needed it most during Covid.

“Long periods of isolation have been particularly damaging for people with dementia, who make up more than 70 percent of those in residential care.

“But it is crucial that we all continue to use basic protection like wearing masks. While Covid infection numbers remain high, we are not out of the woods yet."

Mrs Wightman added that restrictions on visitors at the county's two main hospitals appear likely to remain, despite the change in rules for care homes.

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Latest NHS figures published on Thursday (January 28) showed 159 Covid patients in Northampton General and Kettering General hospitals while 54 people have sadly died in Northamptonshire while being treated for Covid since January 1.

Both NHS Trusts announced a ban on the majority on New Year's Eve following a rise in cases across the county.

Mrs Wightman said: "The good news over last couple of weeks is that we've not seen a doubling of hospitalisations that other areas saw.

"But equally we've not seen pressure reduce. So it does mean even normal 'business as usual' is quite hard work for most of our service providers."