Hopes rapid covid testing could allow care home visits in South Tyneside by Christmas

New rules to reunite families with isolated loved ones could be ready in time for Christmas, care chiefs have suggested.

Many living in care homes have seen their contact with friends and relatives cut off by restrictions imposed to try and halt the rising spread of COVID-19.

But the prospect of new rapid testing kits for coronavirus being rolled out has raised hopes some of the toughest rules intended to protect the most vulnerable could be revised in December.

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“We’re looking at developing a protocol to encourage more people to get back into care homes and visiting their loved ones,” said Tom Hall, director of public health at South Tyneside Council.

Rapid testing is seen as one of the solutions which will allow us to return to more normal lives during covid

“We’re aiming to have that up and running at the beginning of December and we will be using the lateral flow tests as part of a border testing strategy.

“[We’re hoping to be] up and running in the New Year, particularly focusing on domiciliary care workers, peripatetic workers helping in communities and those workers who aren’t NHS employees but who are going into care homes.”

Hall was speaking at a meeting of the borough council’s Health and Wellbeing Board, held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

He also predicted the new testing regime could allow care home workers to be screened for the virus multiple times a week, if not daily, some time in the New Year.

The new COVID-19 screening technology has already been rolled out in Liverpool as part of an attempt to assess everyone in the city and can provide results within an hour, without needing to be sent to a lab for processing.

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Ministers have local council health chiefs they will be allowed to prioritise where the new tests are allocated.

Hall added: We’re proposing to use lateral flow testing for people irrespective of symptoms.

“But because we’re not quite sure how quickly they will be able to scale up the availability of that to cover the whole population, we’re looking to target visitors to care homes, domiciliary care staff and potentially care home staff, in the first instance."

He added: “We don’t actually have an indication yet when we will have the level of tests available to do mass asymptomatic testing.”

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