Heartfelt reunions and “the start of more hugs for many, many people” took place across the country yesterday as care home residents were reunited with their loved ones.
Some had not been able to receive visitors for almost a year, making do with catch-ups outside or muffled conversations through windows.
New measures are now in place allowing residents to have two designated visitors, with each able to stop by once per week.
The Scottish Government said 99.9% of residents in older care homes, and 92% of staff, have now received at least the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
And new figures show the number of coronavirus deaths in such facilities has fallen 62% in the last three weeks.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said visitors will need to wear face coverings and PPE, and will be “strongly encouraged” to take a Covid test on site.
She added: “The decisions regarding restrictions on visiting for care home residents have been some of the most difficult we have faced.
“I have the greatest sympathy for those who have been unable to see relatives and loved ones in person for so long.
“We must remain vigilant about the risks but with multiple layers of protection now in place the balance is in favour of allowing visits.”
Edenholme Care Home in Stonehaven was among the first in Scotland to allow guests again.
Anne Chalmers, who was able to visit her mother, Norah Peddie, said: “Seeing mum up close and to actually hug her is beyond words.
“The months not seeing her just fell away.
“This is such a huge step forward and it’s going to be just brilliant to see her more regularly and more normally again.”
Care home manager Amanda McRae said: “Today has been really wonderful and hugely emotional for all of the staff here.
“Seeing our residents being able to hug their families and sit and chat together has been so uplifting.
“We have all worked exceptionally hard to care for residents and to keep communication between families going as much as we can but nothing can compare to face to face contact and the human touch.”
Other care providers are expecting to open up to visitors in the coming days.
‘The difference is amazing’
Queen’s House in Kelso was another care home which allowed relatives to visit their loved ones once again yesterday.
This included Fiona Scott, who had not been in the same room as her 90-year-old mother, Mary Cook, for three months.
She said: “The touch and feel, it can speak a volume of words.
“A hug’s a gesture that you can’t put into words but it conveys so much to the person.
“Let’s hope that this is the start of more hugs for many, many people.”
Steven Bailey, concierge at the care home, said: “The difference is amazing – to see Mary and Fiona today, it’s just the best feeling in the world.
“It reminds me of all the reasons why I do this job.
“I think it will be very overwhelming for everybody – including the staff.
“It’s been a long time coming.”
‘Emotional time for many’
Donald MacAskill, the chief executive of Scottish Care, said: “The Covid pandemic has presented frontline care home staff and managers with many challenges but undoubtedly the hardest has been keeping residents apart from family and friends.
“We have now reached a very different place and with a range of Covid-19 protections in place, including vaccination and testing, combined with the use of PPE and IPC (infection prevention and control), we are at a stage where we can reintroduce safer indoor visiting to Scotland’s care homes.
“This day has been long-awaited and we understand that it will be an emotional time for many.”
Gabe Docherty, a spokesman for the Scottish Directors Of Public Health, said: “There’s not been a day when these very human considerations haven’t weighed on the minds of my colleagues and I as we’ve endeavoured to safely negotiate all the challenges Covid has presented.
“It is always been the focus of Directors of Public Health to reinstate visiting as soon as there was evidence that the risks of doing so were greatly reduced.
“So I warmly welcome and wholeheartedly endorse the approach – and all that it means for care home residents, their families and care home staff.”
And Stuart Currie, Health and Social Care spokesman for the Convention Of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), said: “Local government welcomes the forthcoming guidance on resuming meaningful contact for care home residents and recognises the impact that restrictions have had on residents, their families and friends and care home staff.
“This guidance supports all parts of the system to ensure that meaningful contact is undertaken safely with a number of safety and protection measures in place.”