Care homes have been told to ban any visitors who are feeling “unwell” as the Government steps up measures to protect the elderly from coronavirus.

With Mothering Sunday falling on March 22, anyone with a cold or other illness, as well as anyone showing suspected symptoms of coronavirus, will be barred from seeing their loved ones.

The Government stopped short of an outright ban on visits to care homes, emphasising the “positive impact” of residents seeing friends and family.

But hundreds of care homes have already closed their doors to visitors unless they have specific permission to enter.

Public Health England (PHE) has said anyone in a care home who displays symptoms of the virus must be put in isolation, which can be in their own room. Staff treating them should wear protective equipment including gloves, aprons, fluid-repellent surgical masks and goggles.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said he understood “how worried people most in need of care will be about coronavirus, and how concerned families around the country will be for their loved ones”. He said the Government was “working round the clock” to make sure carers were ready to “protect our most vulnerable”.

The PHE guidance for care provision says: “To minimise the risk of transmission, care home providers are advised to review their visiting policy by asking no one to visit who has suspected Covid-19 or is generally unwell, and by emphasising good hand hygiene for visitors. Contractors on site should be kept to a minimum.”

Explaining why there is no outright ban on visits, it adds that policies “should also consider the wellbeing of residents, and the positive impact of seeing friends and family”.

If anyone shows symptoms they should be isolated in their room, which “ideally should be a single bedroom with en suite facilities”.

The guidance also tells care homes to increase the use of Skype and other video calling facilities to minimise personal contact, while staff with symptoms should self-isolate in the same way as anyone else.

For people who provide home care, the guidance says: “If care workers undertake cleaning duties, they should use usual household products, for example detergents and bleach, as these will be very effective at getting rid of the virus on surfaces.” Waste should be double-bagged, with heavily soiled clothing thrown away.

The Government’s restrictions on care home visits are less severe than those already being imposed by some care providers.

Barchester Care Homes, which runs more than 200 care homes in the UK and has more than 11,000 residents, sent a letter to residents, patients and visitors saying: “As a preventative measure, we are asking visitors, including family members and friends, to stop routinely visiting our care homes and hospitals until further notice.”

It came after the first confirmed case within a UK care home was confirmed on Wednesday. Oakridge House Care Home, in Basingstoke, was closed to visitors after the person tested positive for Covid-19 and was taken to hospital for treatment.

In a statement, Barchester Care Homes said: “We have not taken this decision lightly and appreciate that this may cause some discomfort, but feel this is a necessary step to take.”

The statement said “external entertainment” had been cancelled and relatives must speak to the general manager of each home before making “non-routine visits”. It added that, if a case was confirmed in a care home, all visits would stop.

Health officials are anxious about the prospect of an outbreak in care homes because patients are vulnerable, as well as being kept in close proximity.  In the US, an outbreak at a single care home in Washington State has killed at least 18 residents.

Elsewhere, St Augustine’s Court Care Home, in Nottingham, has put restrictions on visitors. “Where visiting is essential, we would ask for only one visitor per resident, please,” a statement said.

Ryan Moring, the manager of The Haven care home in Colchester, said the home was taking “precautionary measures” and told the BBC: “At the moment, every visitor who enters the building, we insist they wash and sanitise their hands. If they don’t wish to do that, we don’t let them come in.

“We have restricted visitors from outside entertainment – singers, exercise classes –because those people visit numerous care homes.”

He added that contact with other people is “very important” for dementia patients, but they would use facilities like Skype if the virus spreads.

Lisa Lenton, the chair of the Care Provider Alliance, said: “Clearly, this is an ever-changing situation, and providers will be responding in line with guidance. As chair of CPA, I know how hard our members are working to help protect the people they support – families, staff and volunteers – during this challenging time.”

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