Staff will be told to stop “all but essential” movement between care homes to protect residents during a feared second spike of coronavirus.
Tighter new restrictions for the sector are planned ahead of winter, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise again and people complain they cannot get tested.
In areas subject to local lockdowns, it is understood care homes may be told to stop visits in all but end-of-life situations.
And in other areas where community transmission is still a concern, the government is considering restricting visits to one person per resident.
Ministers were criticised over their handling of the pandemic in care homes in March and April, for example when a nursing home owner accused government guidance of being “tantamount to importing death into care homes” and “sacrificing the elderly”.
At the height of the crisis more than 400 care home residents were dying every day with coronavirus, analysis by the Press Association found.
As part of the government’s new social care action plan, care home residents and workers will also get free Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – another issue which some providers claim took months to solve at the start of the pandemic.
And a new chief nurse for adult social care role will be created to provide “clinical and professional leadership” – but recruitment will not start until October.
Local authorities and the Care Quality Commission will be asked to take “strong action” in instances where providers are not restricting staff movement adequately.
The Department of Health and Social Care said this could include restricting a service’s operation and issuing warning notices.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock explained the measures are being taken as the UK enters “a critical phase in our fight against coronavirus with winter on the horizon”.
He said: “Our priority over the next six months is to make sure we protect those most vulnerable receiving care and our incredibly hard-working workforce by limiting the spread of the virus and preventing a second spike.
“This winter plan gives providers the certainty they need when it comes to PPE and provides additional support to help care homes to limit the movement of staff, stop the spread of coronavirus and save lives.
“We will be monitoring the implementation of this carefully and will be swift in our actions to protect residents and colleagues across the country.”
Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow social care minister, said the party had repeatedly called for more help for social care and a new chief care officer to be appointed to provide leadership that “was clearly lacking” when coronavirus first broke out.
She welcomed the new funding but cautioned the “real test” remains for the government to deliver on weekly testing of all care staff.
That was promised in July, Ms Kendall said, but it has still not been delivered.
“Ensuring families can visit their loved ones is also critical, as without this care home residents can end up fading fast,” she added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July claimed that “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have”.
Carers reacted with anger, as the guidance issued until 13 March told them: “It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.”