Families could soon be reunited with loved ones in care homes who have been left isolated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Northumberland County Council confirmed plans are under way to send rapid Covid-19 tests to care homes so that visitors can be checked for the virus and safely allowed to see their relatives if they test negative.

The Government announced last week that every local authority in the North East was being issued an initial 10,000 of the lateral flow tests, which can return results in under 30 minutes, with hopes that the supply could help “relax some of the physical and emotional barriers our residents have faced.”

However a spokeswoman for the county council said the authority was yet to receive any rapid testing kits.

“We are developing our plans for Northumberland and will provide more detail on these in due course,” the spokeswoman added.

North East councils asked care homes to stop all non-essential visits again in September, as Covid infection rates were rising, and those restrictions continued during the region’s local lockdown measures.

And while the Government has allowed care home visits during the four-week national lockdown, they can only take place if measures such as floor-to-ceiling screens or ‘visiting pods’ are in place – something which critics have said is impractical and could cause distress for care home residents.

The Courant understands that care homes which currently have no coronavirus cases will be invited to participate in the testing programme, with sites selected over the “next few weeks,” though exact details of how the system will work are still being developed.

The testing roll out has been praised by Paul Howard, director and manager of care at Burn Brae Lodge, in Corbridge.

The care home created a Covid-safe visitor room earlier this year where floor-to-ceiling perspex screens were installed to allow residents to be reunited with their families, including in the second national lockdown.

Paul said: “Anything that helps relatives being able to see their loved ones again is a good thing and the testing of visitors is a very important part of that.

“The hope is the vaccine will help us bring back to some sort of normality, but I’m not sure if it would allow for physical contact between residents and visitors.

“For some people that will be very difficult and it may be that the current way of visiting is less upsetting.”