The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has issued new guidance around visits to nursing homes from 7 December.

Up to this point, window visits were only permitted between Levels 3 and 5.

In updated guidance, the HPSC says one visit by one person per week should be facilitated for residents who wish to receive visitors at Levels 3 and 4.

It says up to one visit by one person every two weeks should be facilitated for those who wish to receive visitors when at Level 5.

It says that in the context of framework Level 3, a more flexible interpretation of "critical and compassionate circumstances" is appropriate compared with framework Level 4 and 5.

The HSPC recommends that visits be limited to one hour but with appropriate flexibility, for example in relation to situations such as end of life.

It says there is no requirement that visits which are facilitated on compassionate grounds should always be by the same person.

"There is no reason to expect the risk of introduction of Covid-19 is reduced by having the same person make all visits facilitated on compassionate grounds," it says.

It says the ability to have another person visit may support those who have concerns regarding their health on the day of a scheduled visit.

The CEO of the Irish Hospice Foundation has welcomed the update.

According to Sharon Foley the change means that the distress for both families and residents will be somewhat eased in the run up to Christmas.

"While the previous restrictions were limited to those allowed on critical and compassionate grounds only, the changes mean that our most vulnerable people will get to interact more with their loved ones," said Ms Foley.

Minister with responsibility for Older People Mary Butler said the new guidance identifies further opportunity for managed social interaction and residents receiving visits from family.

She has requested that all nursing home providers make every practical effort to facilitate visiting in a safe way in line with the new guidance during the Christmas period and beyond.

Meanwhile, Sage Advocacy is urging nursing home operators to facilitate meaningful, safe visits between nursing home residents in line with the new guidelines.

It notes that the HPSC says that every practical effort should be made "on compassionate grounds" by nursing home operators to facilitate visits in the long-term residential care facility during the Christmas/New Year period "for those residents for whom this is an important period".

Executive Director of Sage Advocacy Sarah Lennon said: "We appreciate that the definition of compassionate circumstances is open to interpretation but it should not solely apply to end of life circumstances. For example the HPSC clearly outlines that it should also apply when a person nominated by the resident expresses concern that a prolonged absence is causing upset or harm to a resident."