The UK government has announced that people living in care homes can have visits from family and friends by Christmas if the visitors test negative for coronavirus.
More than a million coronavirus tests will be sent to care homes over the next month to allow safe indoor visits.
Visits will be allowed across all tiers of coronavirus restrictions.
The health secretary said the move was possible due to “unprecedented strides” in testing technology and capacity.
Matt Hancock said: “The separation has been painful, but has protected residents and staff from this deadly virus.
“I’m so pleased we are now able to help reunite families and more safely allow people to have meaningful contact with their loved ones by Christmas.”
Strict restrictions have been placed on visits to care homes during the last eight months because of the pandemic.
In new guidance, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says the “default position” is now that visits should be enabled to go ahead in all tiers – unless there is an outbreak in the care home.
It adds that hand holding and hugging may be possible if other infection control measures are followed.
It stresses the importance of visitors minimising contact as much as possible and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to help protect their loved ones.
Care homes will manage the number of visits that take place, which must be arranged in advance, with visitors urged to be mindful of the additional workload for the care home.
Each care home is responsible for setting the visiting policy in that home, it says.
More than a million quick-turnaround or “lateral flow” tests, which provide results in about 20 minutes without the need for a lab, are being sent out to England’s 385 biggest care homes as part of the first phase of the rollout.
The guidance says the number of test kits will allow up to two visitors per resident, based on them visiting twice a week, by Christmas.
As well as the tests, an extra 46 million items of PPE will be sent to Care Quality Commission (CQC)-registered care home providers.