Families could be able to hold hands with loved ones in care homes within weeks, a minister has signalled.
Care Minister Helen Whately said the Government wanted to increase the number of visits in England as cases fall and lockdown restrictions are eased.
The vast majority of care home residents have received their first vaccine dose – potentially opening the door to more contact with relatives.
Ms Whately said care homes would not need to wait until people have had their second dose of the Covid jab before visiting rules can be relaxed.
Strict restrictions have been in place on care home visits during the latest lockdown, to prevent outbreaks among some of the most vulnerable people.
Ms Whately told Sky News: “I really really want to open up visiting in care homes more.
“We have made sure that visiting can continue even during this national lockdown but I recognise it’s not the normal kind of visiting – it is having to use screens or visiting pods or through windows.
“What I want to do, as we come out of the national lockdown, is also increase the amount of visiting.
“I don’t see that we have to wait for the second vaccination dose. I want us to open up sooner than that.
“We do have to be cautious. Residents in care homes have only had their first dose and some of them only very recently so it will be step by step.
“But I am determined so that we can see people go back to even if it’s to be able to hold hands again and to see somebody who you haven’t been able to see very much in the last few months and over the last year. I really want to make that happen again.”
Visitors will still be expected to wear PPE to protect residents even if visiting rules are relaxed, she said in a separate interview with BBC Breakfast.
Ms Whateley said: “Visiting will be taken step by step and we will, for instance, when people come back to more normal visiting, still be asking people to use PPE and follow those kinds of procedures.”
Indoor visits to care homes were banned in January when Boris Johnson plunged England into its third lockdown.
People were allowed to see their loved ones behind perspex screens or through windows but any close contact was banned.
The Prime Minister is expected to set out his roadmap out of lockdown on Monday.