Thanks to the success of the vaccination booster roll out, and the reducing level of both infection and hospitalisations across the country, the government has been able to announce the end of Plan B. This means we are now able to take steps towards getting care homes back to normal, easing some of the difficult restrictions which both staff and residents have had in place which I know have been incredibly challenging for all, whilst still protecting residents from the continued risk of COVID-19.
From Monday 31st January, there will no longer be nationally-set direct restrictions on visiting in care homes and there will be no limit on the number of visitors a resident can receive. Residents should be supported to undertake visits out of the care home without the need to isolate on their return, but should continue to take reasonable precautions and undertake testing arrangements for high-risk visits.
As well as removing those additional precautions we put in place in response to the Omicron variant, we are now able to reduce isolation periods for residents in care homes so that they are the same as for the general public in most cases.
Residents who need to isolate will now only need to do so for a maximum of 10 days. The 10-day maximum period will apply to those residents who test positive, are identified as a close contact or have had an unplanned stay in hospital. For some residents, the isolation period could be as short as five days subject to the testing regime that will be outlined in guidance.
Today I am also announcing changes to regular testing for staff. For all adult social care staff, we are moving to lateral flow testing every day before work and removing weekly PCR testing. Recent clinical advice is that following the pre-shift testing regime provides better protection than the current regular testing regime of weekly PCR with three lateral flow tests a week in high-risk settings.
As restrictions are relaxed for care home residents and for the general population, testing continues to be essential for providing the protections needed to support this relaxation of restrictions. The introduction of pre-shift rapid lateral flow tests should help identify and isolate positive cases quicker rather than waiting for PCR results to return from the lab.
This change applies only to regular asymptomatic testing for staff meaning PCR tests will remain available for symptomatic staff and residents. Outbreak testing and monthly resident testing will also remain unchanged.
By maintaining a robust regime of testing in adult social care, continuing to press ahead with our vaccination programme and maintaining high standards or infection prevention and control, we are able to support residents of care homes and recipients of care to gradually return to enjoying life as it was before the pandemic.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords