Published: 20:35, 08 March 2021
| Updated: 20:47, 08 March 2021
A husband-and-wife of 60 years were among those reunited today as care home visiting rules were relaxed.
Olive and John Chubb, from Herne Bay, were among many delighted to hold hands and see one another face-to-face for the first time in months, as retirement homes welcomed visitors indoors at long last.
Care homes first closed their doors to visitors when the pandemic broke out about a year ago. Since then, guidelines have changed on multiple occasions, but no visits have been allowed to take place during the current lockdown.
But with the number of infections falling in the UK - and every care home resident in the UK having been offered the Covid-19 vaccine - care home residents are from today entitled to visits from one nominated person, as part of the government's first step towards easing lockdown restrictions.
Hand-holding is allowed, but kissing and hugging are still banned, while visitors are required to carry out lateral flow tests required before entry and must wear PPE during visits.
John Chubb was among the first to make the most of the new rules, as he visited his wife Olive, 89, at her Herne Bay care home today.
The couple met when Olive was just 17 years old, before marrying on May 18, 1961.
They moved to Herne Bay a decade ago, but Mrs Chubb was moved into St Brelades and The Cumberland care home last year after she developed Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Mr Chubb has not been able to visit his wife in person since October, instead seeing her through a window and speaking to her on the phone.
But today, they were able to at last see one another face-to-face inside the home.
Mr Chubb says he is "so grateful" to staff for taking care of his wife. "While it’s been so hard being apart for so long, it’s been worth the sacrifice," he added.
Larry Berkowitz, managing director of St Brelades and The Cumberland, said he feels "it is time" for visits to resume.
"I think everyone's just tired, and fed up, from elderlies to youngsters," he said. "We'll do whatever the guidance is. We just can't keep being tough any more.
"We now have lateral flow tests, so anyone who comes will get tested before they visit their loved ones and we'll know within half an hour if they're positive or negative.
"And secondly, our residents have all had their first jabs, while there's a good chance some of the family coming through will also have had their first jab."
Diane Collins, manager at Harrier Lodge care home in Whitstable, also welcomed the newly relaxed rules.
"Now that we have all received our Covid vaccine, we are thrilled to be able to welcome residents’ family members inside the home for the first time in a year," she said.
"There’s nothing quite like holding a loved one’s hand, so we have all been anticipating this moment for sometime.
"It’s wonderful to see residents chatting and laughing with their loved ones in real life again.
“We have done everything possible to make these meetings one to remember, while also having stringent safety measures in place to protect everyone. We are looking forward to having more visitors in the near future.”
Care home residents may see more than just the one person they nominate, as visits outdoors, or behind pods or screens, are still allowed to take place.
KMTV reporter Katya Fowler was allowed into Cedardale residential home in Maidstone to see the emotional moments families were finally reunited.
Watch David and Judith Lane reunite in Maidstone
Although there was a 30 minute time limit and no hugging allowed, they were allowed to hold hands.
The first resident to benefit from the easing of restrictions was 94-year-old David Lane, who was reunited with his daughter Judith.
Care worker Wendy Ingram said: "It's been a long time since David could see visitors, he saw his daughter.
"Even this morning when we were telling him he was saying 'I don't believe it, I don't believe it'.
"It's really hard to not have a tear and stay professional!"