A social care leader says many care homes are in an “impossible position” after indoor visits by family and friends were given the go-ahead.
Mary Wimbury, the chief executive of Care Forum Wales, praised the Welsh Government for their cautious approach to the issue.
However, expectations were sky high after the easing of the rules that means that residents may be allowed one designated indoor visitor.
Ms Wimbury stressed that while indoor visits were being permitted again, beyond exceptional circumstances, care homes would need to undertake a rigorous risk assessment before judging visits could safely take place
Many care homes were “terrified” amid concerns a vaccine-resistant variant of the virus could appear at a time when health experts are convinced a third wave of the disease is inevitable.
Another problem that had emerged was the wildly fluctuating rate of second doses of the vaccine being given to people aged over 80, many of whom lived in care homes.
She said: “whilst it is excellent news that we are now able to begin the process of reopening care homes to visitors, it will be a phased approach and it is imperative that we proceed with caution.
“It will not be like pressing a button and everybody returning immediately to the normality that existed before the pandemic struck.
“We are looking forward to welcoming some sort of normality in the weeks and months ahead.
“Quite rightly, the Welsh Government has said the decision about visiting will be left to individual care homes who will carry out careful risk assessments.
“As the Welsh Government have said, in many cases it will be about preparing for the reintroduction of visiting rather than it happening straight away.
“Infection and community transmission rates still vary in different parts of Wales and the Kent variant and other mutant strains are a real cause for concern.
“What we don’t know is how effective the vaccine is against some of the newer variants of Covid, particularly with what’s going on in Brazil.
“Health experts are warning that the new strain that’s causing such devastation in Brazil could sweep across the world. It’s absolutely raging.
“As the First Minister pointed out, we are facing an inevitable third wave of coronavirus and we have to take great care to protect our residents and our staff.
“Clearly, we want to get people back together again but we need to get more data on the vaccinations.
“The rate at which people aged over 80 in Wales – many of whom are in care homes – are receiving their second doses of vaccine fluctuates wildly, depending on where you are in Wales -from 0.1 per cent in Pembrokeshire to 48.4 per cent in Torfaen.
“In North Wales, the lowest percentage of second doses for the over 80s is in Wrexham which stands at 1.4 per cent while the highest is Conwy at 21.4 per cent.
“The vaccine roll-out in Wales has hitherto been a real success story so these new figures are baffling and a cause for concern.
“Whilst the first dose will provide a good degree of immunity, it is important that people are able to have the second jab to provide better protection, particularly in the case of people aged over 80 who are more likely to be frail and therefore more vulnerable.
“We will be contacting Public Health Wales to ask for an explanation and an assurance that, if these figures are correct, there are not these extreme fluctuations in future so that the distribution is fairer and more even across Wales.
“The other factor is that care homes that have recorded positive cases during the routine weekly testing will be flagged as red and the whole home will be closed down for 20 days.
“They are often false positive results but they can still close you down for 20 days. That means no visiting.
“Anyone that thinks we’re out of the woods needs to think again because the resumption of indoor visiting must be done extremely carefully.
“We’re all doing our utmost to bring back some normality but everybody needs to understand the fluidity of the situation.
“If you have a 50-bed care home that’s full and potentially 50 relatives coming in, the home will not know if they’ve been vaccinated or who they have been mixing with.
“Everyone understand that we have come through the most hideous 12 months since the pandemic was declared and there is now light at the end of that very dark tunnel.
“Care Forum Wales wants to see family members and care home residents united again but we would certainly support care homes in adopting a cautious approach. Some of these care homes are in an impossible situation because they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
“In fairness though, the Welsh Government has been far more sensible than their counterparts across the border and they deserve a great deal of credit for their understanding and cautious approach. You can’t press a button and it’s all happy days.”