The British government announced a small step out of the nation's lockdown on Saturday — allowing nursing home residents to have a single friend or family member visit them indoors.
Residents and their visitors will be able to hold hands, but not hug.
The change takes effect March 8. For months, nursing home residents have only been able to see loved ones outdoors or through screens.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will announce a “road map” out of lockdown on Monday. The government has stressed that easing restrictions will be slow and cautious. Store reopenings and outdoor socializing are unlikely before April, though children will go back to school from March 8.
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Johnson’s Conservative government has been accused of reopening the country too quickly after the first lockdown in the spring. Britain has had around 120,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe.
The number of new confirmed cases, hospitalization and deaths are all declining, but remain high, and Johnson said this week his reopening roadmap would follow “data, not dates.”
The U.K. government is also racing to vaccinate the population as quickly as possible against the virus. So far almost 17 million people, a quarter of the population, have received the first of two doses of a vaccine.
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The new nursing home measures apply in England. In other parts of the U.K. visiting rules vary, with Scottish residents able to have two visitors from March 8.