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Media captionMr Hancock said wanting to be with a loved one at the end of their life is “one of the deepest human instincts”

Close family members will be able to say goodbye to dying relatives in hospitals and care homes under new coronavirus guidelines, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

He said the UK would introduce new steps to “limit the risk of infection” and allow goodbyes “wherever possible”.

Mr Hancock also launched a new network to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to care home staff.

It comes as the number of hospital deaths in the UK rose by 761 to 12,868.

Many loved ones have been unable to say goodbye to family and friends since stringent restrictions were introduced to life in the UK on 23 March.

Mr Hancock highlighted the death of Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, 13, from Brixton, south London. Ismail died alone in hospital last month and his close family were then unable to attend his funeral because they were self-isolating.

Speaking at Wednesday’s briefing, Mr Hancock said wanting to say goodbye to dying loved ones was “one of the deepest human instincts”.

Announcing the new guidelines, Mr Hancock said: “I’m pleased to say that working with Public Health England, the care sector and many others, we are introducing new procedures so we can limit the risk of infection while, wherever possible, giving people’s closest loved ones the chance to say goodbye.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has made big play of the fact relatives are to be allowed to visit dying family in care homes.

This was already allowed under guidance issued on 2 April, but many care homes have blocked visiting because of concern about spread of the virus, partly fuelled by a lack of protective equipment.

The same applies to hospitals. It has meant many people with Covid-19 have died with no family or friends around them.

Just because a minister says it is allowed, it does not mean it will happen.

On the frontline, staff are under huge pressure and are reluctant to take risks.

The practicalities of the new guidelines have not been announced but further details could lie in the government’s social care plan, expected to be published later.

Care providers have been calling for more testing and PPE for weeks, amid outbreaks at more than 2,000 homes.

Earlier, the government promised to test care home residents and staff with Covid-19 symptoms as laboratory capacity increases.

At the news conference, Mr Hancock extended that promise to include anyone moving from hospital into social care.

Labour’s shadow minister for social care Liz Kendall, said the UK needed a “clear and detailed plan” to protect care home workers and residents.

“More still needs to be done to ensure enough PPE regularly gets to frontline staff, who are desperate not to infect the elderly and disabled people they care for, or their own families,” she said.

“There are too many reports across the country that this vital protective equipment still isn’t getting through.”

Mr Hancock also announced the launch of a “badge of honour” to allow care workers to “proudly and publicly identify themselves” during the pandemic – in a bid to their boost public recognition of all those in caring roles.

And he said supermarkets have been asked to ensure social care workers are given the same priority access as NHS staff.

Meanwhile, Mr Hancock said the restrictions on movement, which have been in place since 23 March, were “starting to work” but warned “we will not lift these measures until it is safe to do so”.

Ministers are required by law to assess whether the rules are working, based on expert advice, every three weeks – with the first assessment carried out by Thursday.

Deputy chief scientific adviser, Prof Angela McLean, said there was continuing evidence that the social distancing measures were having an impact on the rate of people testing positive for Covid-19.

The numbers of coronavirus patients in hospital beds have also fallen, she said. On Tuesday, the number fell by 1% across the UK, and by 5% in London.

“We expected everywhere to be the same. That is not exactly what we are seeing,” she said .

She said the number of people in hospital in London with coronavirus was falling faster than elsewhere perhaps because cases rose faster in the capital and then maybe people responded to advice more quickly.

NHS bosses have told the BBC that hospitals should be able to cope with an expected peak in coronavirus cases.

In other developments:

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