A charity has called it "heartbreaking" that care home residents aged over 65 will not be allowed to join loved ones at Christmas, despite an easing of coronavirus restrictions over the festive period.
Families will be allowed to reunite when measures are temporarily eased from 23 to 27 December, allowing three households to form a "Christmas bubble".
But government guidance for care homes in England says that outside visits should only be considered for residents of working age due to the increased risk of exposure to coronavirus.
Gavin Terry, head of policy at Alzheimer's Society, said thousands of relatives would be in "complete despair" at the guidelines and called for a national rollout of visits to "keep the spirit of Christmas alive".
"After eight harrowing months filled with devastation and tragic loss of life, the announcement that many care home residents will be facing Christmas alone is just heartbreaking," he said.
"Every day we hear from families who would give anything to see their loved ones and we know there will be thousands of people in complete despair at this announcement.
"We have to put a stop to people with dementia tragically dying from loneliness and urgently need to see a national rollout of testing and visits to care homes, to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for people with dementia."
The call comes after care home residents and workers have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with 28,186 “excess deaths” recorded in care homes in England between 2 March and 12 June. More than 18,500 care home residents are confirmed to have died with Covid-19 during this period.
According to the Christmas guidance, some residents may be able to leave their care home and form a support bubble with one other household.
"Spending time with others outside the care home will increase risk of exposure to coronavirus for the resident and the other residents in their home on their return, and is likely to place an additional burden on the care home," the guidance says.
"Given this, visits out of care homes should only be considered for care home residents of working age.
"Residents, their families and care homes should very carefully consider whether this is the right thing to do, or whether visiting at the care home would provide meaningful contact in a safer way."
The guidance says that if a resident does join a household for Christmas, they should maintain social distancing, wash their hands regularly and open windows and doors to allow in fresh air.
Others in the household should recognise that “introducing coronavirus to a care home puts all those who live and work there at risk,” it adds.
All members of the bubble should minimise contacts in the two weeks prior to the resident joining the bubble, and should talk to the care home about being tested, the guidance says.
It adds the resident will need to be tested and isolated in order to safely return to the care home, with further guidance on that to be published shortly.
The government has pledged that relatives of care home residents in England will be able to hug their loved ones if they test negative for coronavirus and wear protective equipment.
The government has said it is committed to providing twice-weekly testing to up to two visitors by Christmas. Care home staff will receive twice-weekly tests by the end of December and resident testing will be increased to once a week.
Human rights group Amnesty UK have said “care home residents should not be subject to blanket restrictions on their private and family life, except for restrictions which are appropriate to their specific circumstances based on individualized risk assessments and which take into account the impact on physical and mental health".
Additional reporting by PA