Visits to nursing homes are allowed from today as new guidelines from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre come into effect. 

Until now, only window visits to nursing homes were permitted between Levels 3 and 5 of the Plan for Living with Covid-19. 

However, from today, one visit by one person per week should be facilitated at Levels 3 and 4 for residents who wish to receive visitors. 

If the country is moved back to Level 5, it would be restricted to one visit by one person every two weeks. 

Residents can also have an extra visit during the Christmas period. 

It is recommended the visits are limited to one hour under the new rules.

There is no requirement that they are by the same person each week, but they must planned. 

Longer visiting times and more visitors may be allowed in certain circumstances, such as end of life.

The HPSC has said visitors must continue to adhere to the basic public health measures as part of the efforts to prevent any virus outbreaks.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland has said a nominated visitor for nursing home residents should receive a Covid-19 vaccine during the early roll-out of the vaccine. 

Tadhg Daly said he is engaged in a process to examine the vaccination of healthcare workers and will be advocating for a plan to get nursing home visitors vaccinated during the early roll-out phase so that they can return to nursing homes on an ongoing and consistent basis.

He told RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne programme that this is a practical measure and was not about jumping the queue. 

Mr Daly said visitors to nursing homes should be very conscious of their social contacts.

He urged people to be "hyper vigilant", adding that we can not return to the tragedy of the first wave of the pandemic.

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Earlier, the Executive Director of Sage Advocacy said today was an important one for nursing home residents and their families who have made enormous sacrifices throughout the pandemic.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Sarah Lennon said families are eagerly looking forward to today and no one is taking any of this lightly.

Ms Lennon said it was important that resident visits were booked in advance and there was sufficient contact tracing, but added it was also important that families were accommodated as much as possible.

She said that some families have complained of restrictions being applied, such as visits being limited to 15 minutes, despite guidelines that say they should be an hour, while others have said that window and outdoor visits have been stopped to allow for the face-to-face visits.

Ms Lennon said Sage understands that nursing homes and their staff have been through a lot, but urged them to honour the spirit of the new guidelines.

She said the Minister for Older People has assured everyone that nursing homes have had significant investment to make them as safe as possible.