Under previous rules, if a care home had two or more cases of coronavirus, it had to enforce restrictions for 28 days. These included blocking new admissions and suspending most indoor visits.
But now, the period of restrictions has been halved to 14 days in order to allow more family visiting and help the NHS to discharge more patients out of hospitals and into care homes.
Thousands of people who are fit to be discharged from hospital into care homes have been prevented from doing so by staff shortages in recent weeks.
Care homes and hospitals have experienced crippling staff shortages this winter, amid record numbers of coronavirus cases in the UK.
Existing staff shortfalls in the social care sector have been worsened by the Government’s decision to make Covid jabs mandatory for care workers, while the highly infectious Omicron variant has caused unprecedented numbers of staff isolation.
Stephen Chandler, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), said care providers in England had reported staff absences of between 5 and 10 per cent.
Mr Chandler said he knew of two councils that had decided to cut the number of visits carers could give to patients living in their own homes.
He also said that two national supported living providers, which help people with mental health needs and learning disabilities to live independently, had told him they were not able to support people going out as much.
On Friday, a major incident was declared across Northamptonshire as hospitals, care homes and emergency services struggled with staff absences.
Authorities said that declaring a major incident helps health and public services to work together more smoothly to “coordinate activity to help continuity of essential services and help to manage and plan for sustained pressure caused by Covid-19 on staffing levels”.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the change in care home Covid outbreak policy will be kept under review.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have done everything we can to protect those receiving care with the measures in place based on the latest scientific and expert advice,” a spokesperson said.
“A change has been made to outbreak restrictions reducing the period from 28 to 14 days in line with this advice.
“We keep these measures under constant review to ensure we continue to protect the lives, health and wellbeing of residents and fully recognise the impact of isolation and the importance of companionship on physical and mental wellbeing.”
Additional reporting by Press Association