OTTAWA -- After a long and lonely year for residents in Ottawa's long-term care homes, a sense of hope and normalcy is returning to Ottawa's most vulnerable residents.

Physical contact is allowed for residents and caregivers after they receive their COVID-19 vaccines. 

The Ontario government has relaxed some of the protocols in facilities across the province, bringing joy to those with loved ones living in the homes. That includes Suzanne Charest and her 86-year-old father Gilles.

"I was pleased that some of the rules and regulations are relaxing," said Charest, whose father is at the Perley & Rideau Veterans' Health Centre. "My father has really struggled in the last year as many seniors have."

The new rules for Ontario's long-term care homes include allowing residents and caregivers who are fully vaccinated to have physical contact, like hugging, holding hands and eating meals together. Homes can also safely resume indoor events and gatherings. 

"Whether it’s giving him a bear hug or being sitting at his bed as opposed to six feet away, that was really tough not to do," she said.

A spokesperson for the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre says 96 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated, while 86 per cent of staff have received at least one dose.

For Charest’s father, it’s a step towards normalcy.

"It gives me assurance and I feel protected," said Gilles Charest.

Just a few months ago, a kiss between Gilles Charest and his girlfriend at the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre would have been dangerous.

Verna, 91, lives two doors down.

Last spring she tested positive for COVID-19, but she recovered and they’re both fully vaccinated.

It’s a sign that life is slowly returning to normal, after an incredibly tragic year. Nearly 4,000 seniors in long-term care died in Ontario.

"Quality of life depends on being able to interact with family and friends and move around," added Suzanne Charest. 

Charest, who turned 86 in April, has a lot of living and hugging left to do.