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Elderly care

French families reunite with elderly relatives as care home restrictions ease

A woman visits an elderly relative at a care home in France (Ehpad).
A woman visits an elderly relative at a care home in France (Ehpad). © THOMAS COEX / AFP

The French health ministry has allowed family members to visit ageing relatives in nursing homes as of Friday, providing hygiene rules are respected. The establishments have been in strict lockdown since mid-March, and have recorded over 10,000 deaths from Covid-19.

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The easing of access rules to nursing homes, known as "Ehpads", across France comes in time for Mother's and Father's Day, celebrated on 7 and 21 June respectively.

Family visits will be able to resume "if conditions are right", according to a statement issued by the French health ministry on Monday.

"Nearly 45 percent of Ehpads are still reporting at least one case of Covid-19," warned the ministry, adding that it was up to care home directors to decide whether to allow visits based on recommendations from their staff and medical personnel.

The re-opening of nursing homes coincides with the second phase of easing lockdown measures across France, from 2 June, with all but three regions reclassified as "green", signifying the continuing downward trend of Covid-19 infections. 

Some care homes had already begun allowing visits from 20 April, to relieve isolation, but these were restricted to two family members, with no physical contact.

Under the revised rules, more than two people can visit if in an outdoor setting, and two people maximum per room. Children will be allowed to visit as long as they wear masks.

Visits will no longer be monitored by staff members, as was previously required.

"Hand washing, social distancing, wearing a mask will be mandatory for all visitors," the ministry statement said.

Mental well-being

The news comes as a relief for many families whose contacts were restricted to telephone or video, and leaving food parcels or messages during more than two months of lockdown.

There was concern among many Ehpad directors who felt that the lack of contact with elderly loved ones, and the subsequent solitude during confinement, could have been nearly as dangerous as the virus itself.

Many residents in care homes were only able to wave at family members from their windows during the Covid-19 lockdown, as visits were not allowed. April 2020.
Many residents in care homes were only able to wave at family members from their windows during the Covid-19 lockdown, as visits were not allowed. April 2020. AFP

The national organisation of Ehpad directors (AD-PA), had already called for restrictions to be eased earlier this month, underlining that visits were "essential to their residents' psychological well-being".

"An Ehpad is not just a place where you go for treatment, it's a place for living," Henri Hénaff, who runs an Ehpad in Brittany, told France Televisions.

"These establishments are so medicalised these days, yet what we should be focusing on are relationships."

As well as visits, Ehpad directors can reintroduce onsite medical and paramedical appointments and group activities with a limited number of participants, as well as outdoor activities if possible.

Volunteers will be allowed back on site once they have received relevant training.

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