Last updated: 6 April 2021
The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but older people have experienced some of the worst impacts. As well as suffering the highest rates of death and illness, many have endured long periods of limited contact with their friends, family and local community.
Nearly a whole year on from the start of the first-ever national lockdown, we look at how things have changed for older people and how soon they might be able to enjoy a return to something like normality.
The roadmap out of lockdown
On 22 Feb 2021 the government published a four-step roadmap to gradually ease restrictions across England and provide a route back to normal life. The easing was due to begin on 8 March, starting with the re-opening of schools and allowing care home residents to have one regular indoor visitor.
There will be a minimum of five weeks between each step of lockdown easing to limit the risk of a new surge in coronavirus infection rates.
Read about the roadmap in more detail in the Which? guide to the latest coronavirus restrictions.
The roadmap has been made possible by the early success of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign. Hospitalisations and deaths from the virus are thankfully falling, but that doesn’t mean that everything can start to open up at once.
The government warns that the gradual lifting of restrictions will only go ahead as long as the vaccine programme continues to be successful in reducing hospitalisations and deaths from coronavirus.
By mid-February all care home residents, people required to shield, healthcare workers and everyone aged over 70 in the UK had been offered a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. By the end of July, every adult in the UK will have been offered at least one jab, according to government targets. As more people gain protection, the safer it should hopefully be to ease restrictions and move back to a more normal way of life.
Care home visits
The pandemic has been particularly challenging for care home residents and their families. Thousands of deaths from Covid-19 have occurred in care homes, and many residents have gone up to a year without direct contact with their loved ones. When visiting has been permitted, it has been subject to strict social distancing guidelines, such as being separated by perspex screens or loved ones only allowed to meet outdoors.
Charities such as the Alzheimer’s Society have highlighted the damaging effect that isolation has had on the mental and physical health of care home residents – many of whom have dementia and may not understand why they cannot have close contact with their loved ones. It has urged the government to ensure families can be reunited as soon as possible.
Now the majority of care home residents have received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, indoor visiting can start to go ahead again.
Step one – 8 March
From 8 March, care home residents will finally be able to see a loved one indoors. Every care home resident will be able to nominate a single, named visitor who can come see them regularly. But the visitor will need a negative coronavirus test and must wear PPE when they visit.
Commenting on the news, James White, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns at Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘We are delighted that designated family carers will at last be able to visit their loved ones in care homes, who have endured months of isolation.
‘It’s welcome progress as Alzheimer’s Society has been working hard, alongside thousands of campaigners, for almost a year to get safe, meaningful visits in place for people living in care homes, of which at least 70% have dementia. They desperately need social and physical contact to prevent their condition worsening.’
Step two – 12 April
From Monday 12 April, care home residents will be allowed a second regular indoor visitor. This visitor will also be asked to provide a negative test result and wear PPE during the visit.
The government has confirmed that visitors who are parents will be able to bring babies and very young children to the care home, who will not count as one of the visitors. This means care home residents who are grandparents and great-grandparents will be able to meet the newest members of their families.
- Find out more about the new rules for visiting care homes
Tackling loneliness and isolation
Loneliness and isolation were already a big problem for older people before the pandemic, but lockdown restrictions have made many people feel lonelier than ever. The last year has been extremely tough for those who live alone or far away from family and friends, and for people who’ve been deprived of regular social activities.
- Find out more: How to deal with feelings of loneliness
The government’s roadmap plans to gradually lift limits on social contact over the coming weeks so people can start to come together again. Restrictions on outdoor socialising will be lifted first, as evidence shows the risk of catching coronavirus outside is much lower than indoors.
Step one – 8 March
From 8 March, you will be able to meet someone from another household outdoors for recreational activity. For instance, you could meet a friend or relative for a coffee on a park bench.
Step two – 29 March
Three weeks later on 29 March, you’ll able to meet up outdoors in groups of up to six people from different households. Or you can meet in groups of more than six provided everyone is from the same two households.
This includes all outdoor settings, such as private gardens. It means, for example, you’ll be able to see grandchildren in the garden.
Social distancing still applies though, so you won’t be allowed to hug friends or relatives just yet, unfortunately.
Step three – 17 May
Indoor mixing will be permitted no earlier than 17 May. If all goes well with the lockdown easing plan, you will be able to meet indoors with five other people from different households – or more, if everyone is from the same two households.
That means you could stay overnight at a friend or relative’s house or eat a meal inside with them at a restaurant.
Ceremonies such as weddings and funerals will be able to go ahead with up to 30 people by this point. And it is hoped that advice on social distancing will be updated by then so people can hug their loved ones.
But until this point, the government says people should continue to keep their distance from anyone not in their household or support bubble.
Step four – 21 June
Five weeks later, no earlier than June 21, if everything goes as planned, all limits on social contact will be removed. And there will be no restrictions on the number of people that can attend weddings, funerals and other ceremonial events.
Shops, local services, community groups and activities
Non-essential shops, libraries and community centres have been closed for much of the past year. But by 12 April, at the earliest, things will start to open up a little more.
Non-essential shops will re-open. And you’ll be able to get a haircut, massage or manicure as personal care services are restarted. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and swimming pools will be options again for people who like to exercise in this way.
And libraries and community centres will be welcoming visitors again, meaning some support services for older people that have been closed during the restrictions will hopefully start to be available again.
How to support yourself in the meantime
If the lockdown roadmap has triggered some mixed emotions, you’re not alone. Many people will find it tricky to adjust. It may take some time to be comfortable going out and about after several months of isolation and limited social contact. Others may be frustrated that the lockdown easing is not happening quickly enough – particularly if they’ve already had two doses of the vaccine.
Wherever you stand, you may find the following tips helpful for looking after yourself over the coming weeks:
- Taking gentle exercise (indoors or outdoor) can be a real mood boost. Try these simple routines.
- Use technology to keep in touch with loved ones you might not be able to easily see at the moment. Here are some applications that can help.
- Take some time to look for potential hazards in your house, from unsafe stairs to bathroom problems, and outline the steps to protect yourself. Here are our tips for ensuring your home is as safe and comfortable as possible.
- Make sure you have a comfortable face mask as face coverings will still be needed when shops and libraries re-open in April. We’ve rounded up some of our favourites – and the ones you should avoid.
- If the lockdown has left you feeling less mobile than before, you may want to consider using a mobility aid to help you get out and about with confidence. Read our tips on how to choose the right mobility equipment – from walking sticks to mobility scooters.