Visitors will have to take tests before each meeting and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) including face-coverings, but will be permitted to hold hands with their relative or friend.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how important visiting a loved one is and I’m pleased we will soon be in a position for people to be carefully and safely reunited with loved ones who live in care homes.
“This is just the first step to getting back to where we want to be. We need to make sure we keep the infection rate down, to allow greater visiting in a step-by-step way in the future.”
The move came after Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that stay-at-home orders in the principality are to be extended for another three weeks to 15 March, to allow a safe return to school for the youngest pupils from Monday.
Mr Drakeford said further easing of restrictions was under consideration in time for Easter, including welcoming back tourism.
The prime minister’s long-awaited blueprint for easing lockdown in England is expected to offer only limited relaxation of restrictions in the coming weeks, with schools likely to be told to open their doors to more children on 8 March.
Shops, pubs and restaurants will be told to wait longer to readmit customers, with representatives of the hospitality sector telling The Independent that Mr Johnson will not name even an indicative date for reopening. He is instead expected to say that the timing of relaxations will depend on “data not dates”, with further steps driven by the rate of vaccinations, reduced infections and hospitalisations and falls in the crucial R rate of reproduction of the disease.
Labour warned today that the jobs of more than a million people working in the hospitality industry are on the line if the government fails to extend furlough for as long as restrictions remain.
Shadow business minister Lucy Powell called on Mr Johnson to extend the job retention scheme beyond its expiry date of 31 March, as well as confirming that companies will not lose emergency reliefs on business rates and VAT payments.
“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have presided over the worst economic crisis of any major economy,” said Ms Powell. “They need to back our businesses and support jobs as the vaccine is rolled out, to secure our economy and get Britain back on the road to recovery.
”It would be economic negligence for them to stand by and watch businesses go to the wall.”
Latest figures showed that 16,875,536 Britons have received their first dose of coronavirus vaccine, with 589,591 receiving the second booster jab.
The R figure fell to between 0.6 and 0.9 – its lowest since May – while the daily tally of 533 deaths and 12,027 positive tests meant that seven-day totals for fatalities were down 27.7 per cent and for infections 20.3 per cent compared to the previous week.
The decline in cases, along with the offer of vaccinations to all of England’s care home residents and staff, informed the decision to relax restrictions on visits.
From 8 March, each care home resident will be able to nominate one individual for repeated indoor visits, under carefully designed conditions to keep residents, staff and visitors safe.
All visitors will receive a rapid-turnaround lateral flow test and be required to follow all infection prevention and control measures.
Close contact care will continue to be restricted to visitors who provide assistance – such as help dressing, eating or washing – which is essential to the immediate health and wellbeing of a resident under exceptional circumstances.
Outdoor, pod and screen visits will be able to continue in line with the published guidance which has been in place during lockdown, meaning there will be chances for residents to see more than just the one person they nominate.
The chief nurse for adult social care, Professor Deborah Sturdy, said: “I know how much people want to visit, hug and kiss their loved ones but doing so can put lives at risk so we would ask people to continue to follow the rules.
“This is a first step towards resuming indoor visits and we all hope to be able to take further steps in the future. I am pleased as a result of so many people following the rules we are in a position to increase visits and hope this is just the start.”
Labour’s shadow care minister Liz Kendall said: “For the last seven months, backed by Labour and charities, families have been calling for care home visits to start again and to be treated as keyworkers with access to all the PPE and testing they need.
“Over this period ministers have repeatedly failed to grasp how important families are for the physical and mental health of care home residents, and the appalling impact preventing visits has caused.
“Never again must families be denied the right to visit their loved ones in care homes. To have any confidence that things will really change, we need legislation to enshrine residents’ rights to visits and end the scandal of blanket visiting bans.”