STRICT coronavirus curbs on care home visits have been relaxed to let families meet more after months of gruelling separation. 

The new rules will also people to hug and hold hands with their loved ones in homes, provided they are kitted out in personal protective equipment.

Visitors will be required to wear a mask, apron and gloves, and residents a mask if possible.

The changes are intended to allow family and friends to make longer visits. 

Thousands of elderly residents have endured months of isolation to help stop the spread of Covid, seeing loved ones through closed windows, or more recently at a distance outdoors.

Essential visits for residents who suffer a decline in health, are in distress or about to die have been maintained. 

But the new rules open up visits more widely, provided homes have been Covid-free for 28 days and “actively participating” in the testing programme.

From today, care home residents are allowed to have up to six outdoor visitors from up to two households, including children and young people, for up to one hour .

Indoor visits can be extended from 30 mins to four hours for single visitors once a week.

Touch will also be allowed between visitors and residents without supervision by staff, provided PPE is worn and disposed of safely and there is “stringent handwashing”.

Family pets and therapy animals will also be allowed in outdoor and indoor visits, if agreed with the care home.

Gifts and residents’ belongings can also be brought in by visitors, when agreed with the care home manager in advance.

However, as the changes will require “careful planning by care homes”, they will only be  implemented once care homes are satisfied that they can be done so safely.

SNP Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “We know how difficult visiting restrictions have been, and it is only natural after six months of lockdown restrictions, that care home residents and their loved ones will want to see and interact with each other as much as possible.

“The Scottish Government has been actively working with Scottish Care and other care home stakeholders on a staged approach to re-introduce visiting in care homes in as safe a way as possible, while COVID-19 remains in Scotland.

“This latest guidance has been developed with input from family members, carers, and clinicians to offer greater flexibility in visiting arrangements, and indoor visiting in particular, as winter approaches. We will continue to actively consider how we can best support visiting in care homes, and protect those who are at most risk from this virus.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the “belated decision” would be  of little comfort to those who had lost loved ones in recent months.

He said: “Alongside a host of passionate and eloquent campaigners, over the past few months I have repeatedly raised with the First Minister the importance of allowing families to be together after months of separation.  

“That separation has caused much heartache and impacted directly on the health of both residents and families. 

“There should be no further delay with lifting the cruel restrictions so that families can be together.

“I welcome the prospect of change but I will applaud it when families get to be together.

"As soon as we had testing capacity, steps should have been taken to allow this to happen. Today's announcement is a sensible one but it will be little comfort to those who have lost relatives over the past eight months.”