minister were urged last night to keep their promise of nursing home visits for everyone after thousands of joyful reunions during the festive season.
After a major Christmas campaign by the Daily Mail, nursing home residents were allowed to hug loved ones again after being torn apart for nine months.
However, charities have warned that "the cruelest lottery" continues. Tens of thousands of families are in limbo across the country due to a patchwork of different visiting rules.
Nursing home residents are allowed to hug their loved ones again after being torn apart for nine months. Pictured: Pat Clarke, 85, was reunited with daughter Bairbre Duncan last week
The new Tier 4 restrictions, which now affect 23 million people, include a ban on close visits that will deal a devastating blow to families hoping to reunite.
Other relatives had dashed hopes of Christmas visits because some local authorities advised against using rapid cross-flow tests due to concerns about their accuracy.
In early December, the Ministry of Health announced that all nursing home residents would be allowed two visits a week until Christmas thanks to the introduction of rapid tests.
Today we highlight the heartwarming cases of many of the UK's 410,000 residents who were finally able to see their husbands, wives, sons and daughters.
Experts said the emotional reunions demonstrate the importance of hugs and hand-holding, and warn that continued isolation will cost residents lives.
Charities urged the government to keep nursing home visits high on their agenda in the New Year, including by looking into ways to restart them in Tier 4 areas.
The smile that said it all
Bob Benyon, a resident of the nursing home, grinned ear to ear as he was reunited with his son Robert in time for Christmas.
Robert, from Flintshire, North Wales, visited his father at the Orchard Manor nursing home in Chester. He said, “I began to wonder if my father recognized me or not after we were stuck with visits through a window.
Bob Benyon was reunited with son Robert
“But when I saw him, he had that big grin on his face and I knew he knew who I was. It was a massive relief.
"I was very close to my father when we were growing up. We always went to soccer games together." So it was very difficult to be apart.
"It's such a relief that I can now take a quick test and then really communicate with him."
Fiona Carragher of the Alzheimer's Society said, “After a year of relentless tragedy and loss and the fact that people in nursing homes have not had substantial contact with their families, it is encouraging to see that some have received a gift, not the money can buy – long overdue hug from her loved one.
'In the past few weeks, we've seen that meaningful visits can be safely done through regular testing and other precautions like PPE.
“We thank the Daily Mail for partnering with us to persevere in advocating for the thousands of people with dementia in nursing homes and their families who have been hardest hit by this pandemic.
"The well-being of people with dementia needs to be high on the agenda in the crucial months ahead, not least to ensure that Tier 4 nursing home residents are not left behind."
Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said: "In the midst of so much worry and darkness it was amazing to see the happiness and sometimes the relief of all those elderly people and families who were able to meet again.
“If someone has wondered whether 'visiting' is really important, all they have to do is watch the videos or talk to older people and their relatives, who have often met for the first time in many months.
“We were reminded during this pandemic that the ability to touch and hug is incredibly valuable, something we will probably never take for granted again.
“The Daily Mail deserves great credit for advocating safe visit, standing with the elderly and their increasingly desperate loved ones, and advocating humanity and common sense.
"I'm sure the campaign made a difference and helped the government see the light."
"It's not done yet, with hundreds of thousands still waiting in the air, but I know the paper will stay on until the tide has clearly turned."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Welfare said: "In light of a new variant of the virus, we have taken steps to protect the most vulnerable in nursing homes.
"Nursing home visits can still take place in Tier 4 with provisions like bulky screens or visiting boxes, but for family safety, test-assisted indoor visits that are test-assisted cannot be in Tier 4 areas."
Pat Clarke, 85, jumped up from her chair when she saw Bairbre Duncan last week
Amazing! A happy hug, a coffee … and catching up on all the family gossip
This is the emotional moment when a mother hugged her daughter for the first time since March.
Pat Clarke, 85, jumped up from her chair when she saw Bairbre Duncan last week.
Bairbre had just undergone a lateral flow test and after a negative test was able to go into her mother's room and cuddle her.
Ms. Clarke, who lives at the Manor House nursing home in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, said: “It was just amazing to see my Bairbre. Although we are wonderfully cared for at home, there is nothing like being hugged by the family. "
Her daughter said, “I am so happy to have visited my mother just in time for Christmas.
"We don't know what's going to happen now. I am very happy to have seen her in her room and to have held her hand."
"We went to the window and things like that, but there is nothing better than sitting down to have a cup of coffee together and discuss the whole family gossip!"
Nice to see mom again
Nicky Lovett was wearing PSA and was happy to see her mother Jean Davis, 77, in person at Wentworth Court in Cheltenham for the first time in nine months.
Nicky Lovett reunited mother Jean Davis, 77, at Wentworth Court in Cheltenham
Endangered residents of the house who suffer from dementia have not had any external visitors since March. This has helped keep the house Covid free since April.
Ms. Lovett, 58, said, "It was hard, me and my brother decided not to use Skype during the lockdown as we thought she wouldn't understand why we couldn't come in."
"It was just so nice to see mom again and talk and hug each other."
Home Manager Gez Ossai said, "The lateral flow test was brilliant and allowed us to bring so many families back together."