Health chiefs are considering installing secure perspex rooms in care homes so families can visit their elderly loved ones without the risk of spreading coronavirus.
Sunday Life has learned the radical proposal is among several mentioned by Health Minister Robin Swann in a draft paper brought before the Executive last Thursday.
He is currently finalising recommendations which will be submitted to ministerial colleagues charting a way forward for the sector which has been devastated by Covid-19.
"One idea is to have perspex rooms inside care homes so relatives can visit elderly relatives," explained an Executive source.
"Families can stand on one side of the partition and their loved one on the other. It would at least allow a degree of social contact without the risk of the virus being spread. The side on which the family sit would be deep cleaned after each visit."
The Executive insider said capital grants should be made available to care homes to provide this service.
"It wouldn't cost a huge amount in real terms and the benefits would be massive," added our source.
"Lots of care homes residents are suffering badly because of a lack of social interaction with their families since they were locked-down in March. This plan would give them something to look forward to every week and really lift their spirits."
Almost half of the 599 Covid-19 related deaths recorded by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), which is higher than the Department of Health figure of 473, occurred in care homes. This included 36 in the week up to May 8, a fall from the 72 registered the previous week ending May 1.
The Belfast Telegraph yesterday reported how deaths in care homes had fallen by half in just one week.
Medical experts have been scathing in their criticism of the failures to protect elderly care home residents during the pandemic.
In a damning assessment Professor Gabriel Scally told the Belfast Telegraph that promises to protect older people "just didn't happen".
He also hit out at the decision to admit hospital patients suffering from Covid-19 into care homes, describing it as a "very bad idea".
People aged over 75 have accounted for 75% of all virus-related deaths in Northern Ireland. There are currently 483 nursing and care homes operating here with 10,500 residents.
The perspex room proposal to allow relatives to visit was hinted at by DUP MP Gregory Campbell (left) last Tuesday when he warned the isolation of care home residents "cannot continue indefinitely".
Mr Campbell said: "We need to strategically look at how interactions with people outside the care setting can be managed without compromising the bio-security of the setting.
"We need to look at what technology is available in each care setting. Do they have broadband access for residents?
"Can new facilities be built to accommodate visiting through a partition wall?
"All of these measures will require long term planning."