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Unvaccinated family members will soon be banned from entering Ontario long-term care homes

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Unvaccinated family members will be prevented from entering long-term care homes in Ontario as the province enhances the COVID-19 protocols to prevent the Omicron variant from triggering another wave of outbreaks in an already fragile sector.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care is blanketing the sector with new rules this week that would impact visitors and staff alike, regardless of their vaccine status, limiting who can enter a nursing home ahead of the holidays.

The temporary measures will go into effect on Dec. 17.

A senior ministry official told CTV News Toronto the new measures are largely due to the Omicron variant, which is marching across the province with unprecedented speed, and would mean "kids won't be able to visit with grandma and grandpa" over the holidays.

"People are making plans around Christmas, this way families have time to adjust those plans," the official said, speaking on background.

Under the new protocols, unvaccinated visitors and caregivers will be prevented from entering long-term care homes and will only be allowed outdoor visits with residents as long as masking and social distancing are maintained. This would also apply to children who are not eligible for vaccination, and children between the ages of five to 12 who currently only have one dose of the vaccine.

The province says of the 45,000 caregivers, many of whom are in long-term care homes on a daily basis, 95 per cent have been fully vaccinated, leaving 2,000 who have yet to be innoculated.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care is giving those visitors and caregivers until Dec. 20 to receive their first dose, and until Feb. 21 to be fully immunized -- partially vaccinated caregivers will only be allowed access to resident rooms.

Unvaccinated visitors would only be allowed to enter a nursing home under exceptional circumstances -- such as visiting a resident in palliative care, the ministry said.

Beginning Dec. 17 the ministry guidelines will also require fully vaccinated staff, students, volunteers and caregivers to get tested for the virus at least twice per week, while visitors and support workers will need a negative COVID-19 test before entry.

Previously, fully vaccinated individuals were exempt from testing requirements and were only subject to random testing.

Life inside the province's 626 long-term care homes is also about to change as the ministry encourages smaller group activities, and enforces cohorting for higher-risk activities and dining.

Residents will also be allowed a maximum of two visitors or caregivers at a time indoors and will no longer be allowed to leave the home for overnight visits for social reasons.

Daytime, off-site visits will still be allowed for fully-vaccinated residents only.

Officials stressed, however, that residents would not be restricted to their rooms as had been the protocol during earlier waves of the virus.

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