Care homes should come out of lockdown more slowly than rest of country on July 19 and curbs like mask-wearing and two-metre distancing should be released more gradually, SAGE recommends
- Urged ministers to lift care home curbs incrementally rather than all at once
- Group said emergence of new variants gave it cause for concern despite jabs
- But it acknowledged isolating residents was also damaging to their wellbeing
Britain’s care homes could remain under some lockdown rules even when the rest of the country eventually unlocks, it emerged today.
The Government’s scientific advisers have recommended restrictions be released more gradually in care homes to avoid a resurgence of the virus in the sector.
Elderly care home residents are extremely vulnerable to Covid and significantly more likely to become severely ill than the average person.
SAGE has urged ministers to lift care home curbs incrementally to judge how much impact each one has on infection levels, similar to how the national roadmap has worked.
The group said the emergence of new variants gave it cause for concern, despite the fact the vast majority of care home residents are fully jabbed.
However, experts acknowledged harsh restrictions on visits were highly damaging to the mental and physical wellbeing of residents.
They suggested softer rules like mask-wearing, personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols for staff and two-metre social distancing should remain.
Covid curbs are due to be lifted unilaterally in England on July 19 after the country’s original June 21 Freedom Day was pushed back over fears about the Indian variant.
SAGE’s recommendations for care homes were made in a report submitted to No10 on May 27, before the decision to delay the final step in the roadmap.
Britain’s care homes could remain under some lockdown rules even when the rest of the country eventually unlocks, it emerged today (file)
More than a fifth of care home residents have died of Covid in South Tyneside, Darlington, Doncaster and St Helens since the start of the pandemic, MailOnline analysis of Office for National Statistics data suggests
British care homes were decimated in both waves of the epidemic, with almost 40,000 of the 150,000 Covid victims being elderly residents in social care. It led to extremely strict social distancing rules being implemented in the sector, which meant many residents went over a year without physical contact. Pictured: Dave Stallard can only see his wife when she crouches on the street near his care home in West Sussex due to current restrictions
It read: ‘We know all the interventions have probably had some incremental effect, but we don’t know the specific contribution of each measure.
‘It is recommended that any mitigations/restrictions that are eased are done so in a measured manner and if possible in a way that allows for evaluation of the individual impact before further easing of restrictions.
‘The case for this cautious approach is also underlined by the fact the impact of new variants in the context of a general easing of societal restrictions is still to be seen.’
But SAGE said that if vaccines continue to work well against emerging strains then Covid would pose the same threat to care homes as flu did before the pandemic.
Influenza kills on average 17,000 people a year but bad bouts can see up to 50,000 lives lost. Those most vulnerable are the elderly and sick.
In the report, SAGE said: ‘Keeping all things equal and not removing any interventions, it is possible to anticipate the residual mortality risk in a vaccinated set of residents to be of the same order as pre-pandemic seasonal flu.
It added: ‘While data doesn’t allow us to produce exact estimates, the wave two mortality patterns in the homes that we know were significantly impacted by Covid in wave one were more akin (albeit slightly higher) to seasonal mortality patterns.’
British care homes were decimated in both waves of the epidemic, with almost 40,000 of the 150,000 Covid victims being elderly residents in social care.
It led to extremely strict social distancing rules being implemented in the sector, which meant many residents went more than a year without physical contact.
In-person visits were briefly resumed last summer but they were restricted when the second wave started to take off in the autumn. The prolonged isolation is said to have sped up the deaths of many frail residents.
Under current rules care homes are allowing five visitors per resident, who can visit individually or as a group.
However named visitors and residents are advised to keep physical contact to a minimum.
Physical contact like handholding is acceptable if hand washing protocols are followed.
Rules around hugging are still murky, with visitors advised to keep them brief and to a minimum, even though four in five adults have been given a jab already.
Visitors must also wear masks and they are required to take a rapid Covid test. Residents themselves are kept socially distanced from other residents. Staff giving care must wear face coverings and PPE at all times.
In its report last month, SAGE said there were other measures that could be implemented to reduce Covid risks in care homes that didn’t involve social curbs.
The group said that offering statutory sick pay to carers could reduce large outbreaks by 40 per cent, citing a study of 5,100 care homes in Singapore.
The same study also found residents were 20 per cent less likely to get infected and staff 30 per cent.
The Government this week pushed through mandatory vaccines for care home staff in an attempt to keep care homes Covid free as the country unlocks.
The controversial policy will see all 1.5million people working in social care told to get inoculated within 16 weeks — or face losing their jobs or being redeployed.
It applies to all carers as well as other workers in homes, including tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians.
Critics described it as a ‘sledgehammer approach’ which could worsen the social sector’s staffing crisis, make it harder to recruit and force many to ‘walk away’.
Despite care workers being among one of the top priority groups for Covid jabs and being eligible since December, latest figures show just two thirds of them have had both doses of the vaccine.