By Natalie Thomas
LONDON (Reuters) – Residents of Britain’s care homes shared their first precious hugs and kisses with relatives since March on Wednesday, after homes were able to give visitors rapid tests for COVID-19 which give results in 30 minutes.
Bob Underhill, an 84-year-old retiree, was reunited with his wife Patricia, 82, who has Alzheimer’s. Both were overcome as they met, then hugged and kissed through their face masks.
“I’ve only seen her twice since March because they had a shutdown here, and we just had to sit and wait,” said Underhill.
“I did come and see her last Friday through the partitions, which is not very pleasant; it is not the same being three metres apart.”
Patricia moved into a home in London in March after breaking her hip, meaning Bob could no longer care for her.
COVID-19 spread rapidly through British care homes at the start of the pandemic, as institutions found themselves without adequate protective gear, and agency staff working in multiple homes and visitors unwittingly spread the virus.
This led to homes coming under strict lockdown and limiting visits to protect frail and elderly residents.
Some 17,319 people have died of COVID-19 in care homes in Britain up to the week ending Nov. 20, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), although that figure doesn’t account for residents who were moved to hospitals before dying.
Care home residents and staff will be among the first in line for a vaccination after Britain became the first country in the world to approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
Serena Snelling took a test before seeing her mother Theresa, who has been in a home since late February.
“It’s been really challenging not being able to see her. I was her primary carer… so we were very close,” said Snelling.
They embraced and held each other tightly for a long time.
“It feels great,” said Theresa.
“We love each other very much. It feels really good and it feels like a long time coming,” said Serena.
(Reporting by Natalie Thomas, Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Mike Collett-White)