The daughter of a care home resident has told how she has been unable to hold her mum's hand for eight months.
Cathy Austin was one of a group of families who staged a candlelit vigil outside Belfast City Hall on Thursday in a desperate bid to be reunited with a loved one living in a care home.
Ms Austin has not been able to touch or hug her mum, Kathleen Hill (79), since the beginning of the first lockdown in March.
She also revealed that her mum has been so traumatised by the separation from her family that she has slept in a chair every night for the past eight months.
"Mum has dementia and she went into the home for respite on the same day that my daddy died from cancer," explained Ms Austin.
"They had been married for 56 years and mum never settled in the home.
"She had never slept in bed on her own, she was the youngest of eight children and then she married, so it was very distressing for her.
"When she first went in, we were able to comfort her and get her to sleep but then the home went into lockdown.
"She isn't able to do virtual visits because of the dementia but we would ring the home and they would put her on and she would be crying and asking if we knew where she was and begging us to come and get her.
"We couldn't explain to her about the virus, she wouldn't understand so I feel like she thinks we have abandoned her."
As the levels of Covid-19 began to reduce in the summer, Ms Austin and her sister, Jeanette Fitzsimons, were allowed to visit their mum.
However, the visits had to take place outdoors, at a distance of two metres and only for 30 minutes once a week.
The sisters were horrified when they finally saw their mum, a grandmother of 13.
Ms Austin continued: "We couldn't believe how much she had deteriorated."
She said that the medication her mother was on made her appear "like a zombie".
"Her head was leaning over and when we asked why they told us it was because she was sleeping in a chair," she said.
"She hasn't slept in her bed since lockdown because she's frightened, she's never slept in a bed alone all her life.
"We know the care homes are doing all they can but we just want to be allowed to see our mum and love her.
"Care home staff are going to be allowed to bubble up with three families and then go back to work but we're not even allowed to see our mum outside.
"She was diagnosed with Covid in September and we haven't seen her since. There has been an outbreak at the home constantly since then so we're not even allowed outdoor visits.
"It's getting to the stage now where I believe this is a breach of human rights. I know that Covid is dangerous but how many people are dying from isolation?
"They've started rapid testing of students at Queen's and the Health Minister stood there this week talking about the importance of getting students home for Christmas and that is quite right - but we're still waiting to see our mum and there's no sign of any movement.
"We don't have the luxury of time, my mum is at the end of her life and we want to be there for her."
Health Minister Robin Swann said this week that care homes should be making efforts to allow families to see loved ones although it has emerged funding for a Department of Health initiative to enable visits has not been made available to facilities.