LONDON (Reuters) – Care home residents in England will be allowed one regular visitor from March 8, the government said, as it starts to ease COVID-19 lockdown measures, underpinned by the rollout of vaccines to older and clinically vulnerable people.

Older people living in care homes have been offered the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as part of a programme that has seen almost 17 million shots given to date.

The number of infections in the United Kingdom has also fallen from a peak at the beginning of the year, although it still remains high, the government said on Saturday.

Each care home resident will be able to name one visitor, who will be required to take a COVID-19 test beforehand, wear personal protective equipment during the visit and avoid close contact beyond holding hands.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the measure would allow people to be carefully and safely reunited with loved ones.

“This is just the first step to getting back to where we want to be,” he said.

“We need to make sure we keep the infection rate down, to allow greater visiting in a step by step way in the future.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out Britain’s path out of lockdown on Monday. The steps will be cautious and irreversible, although March 8 is also likely to see schools reopen.

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