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London boroughs are racing to get plans in place so families can be reunited safely with relatives in care homes in time for Christmas.

This week Hammersmith and Fulham became the first area in the capital to start the roll out of 30-minute rapid Covid tests, which can be taken by visitors just before entering the home.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised the lateral flow tests would be given to care homes to end restrictions on visits in time for Christmas.

But only a handful of London facilities were identified for the first round of kit deliveries, and northern councils delayed usage after questions were raised about the accuracy of the tests.

H&F council said it persevered because many elderly residents had not seen their families since March. Chiswick Nursing Centre welcomed its first  visitors in months on Wednesday.

Other precautionary measures were also enforced such as a pre-booking system, full PPE and bans on hugging.

Ben Coleman, cabinet member for health, said: “The isolation some elderly people are suffering is also making them ill so we have to strike a balance.”

Visiting will be banned in any care home which has an outbreak. The borough has had just one Covid case in a care home during the second wave.

For places which have had more, the plans are proving more complicated. Barking and Dagenham, which had 40 cases in a single care home last month, said it is still working on the logistics of having mass visits but hopes they will be in place by Christmas.

Hillingdon council said rapid tests will be in homes by December 18.

A spokesman added: “We would also like to stress that only homes that do not have an outbreak can use lateral flow testing and facilitate visits.”

Harrow and Hounslow homes have yet to receive any of the 30-minute tests from the Government. Both councils said visits can take place without them with “careful planning”.

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