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94% of positive COVID cases in Scotland successfully followed self-isolation guidelines, says research

20 August 2021 | Tags: COVID-19

Compliance with self-isolation was high among survey participants although additional behavioural measures show building on support and guidance could help even more people in Scotland self-isolate successfully, according to a new report by the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen).

ScotCen surveyed 4,325 people in Scotland who were required to self-isolate by Test and Protect between March and June 2021, in a research project commissioned by the Scottish Government. This research reflects back on self-isolation policy prior to changes on 9th August 2021.

While around nine in ten participants (94% of positive cases and close contacts that took part) reported following the self-isolation guidelines ‘all the time’, the research concluded that seven in ten was a more accurate estimate of the proportion fully complying with self-isolation (74% of positive cases and close contacts).

Knowledge of the requirements around self-isolation was broadly high, although the research found some ambiguity around whether certain activities were permitted or not during isolation.

Findings from in-depth interviews with a small sample of participants indicate that, where uncertainty around requirements existed, people often took mitigating actions to minimise the potential impacts of their behaviour.

This research shows that many of those asked to self-isolate would have welcomed further information and guidance on: permitted tasks during self-isolation; extended isolation periods; requirements for International Travellers; when and how often they should be tested for COVID-19; and how to self-isolate within households with other occupants who did not have to isolate.

Some participants were unsure of the availability of, and eligibility for, formal support during self-isolation, with around three in ten (29%) unable to recall being offered any available in the form of contact from their Local Authority, the National Assistance Helpline number, online support, or support visiting a test centre.

Encouragingly, access to formal support was particularly likely among several potentially vulnerable groups including those who did not have informal support from friends, family and neighbours, those on lower incomes and those with a limiting long-term illness.

Around half (49%) said that experience of self-isolation had impacted negatively upon their mental health, with younger people, international travellers in managed isolation and people with previous experience of self-isolation particularly affected.

Recommendations for increasing awareness of the support available included a written list of sources of support and relevant contact details, improved accessibility and clarity of guidance on government and NHS websites, and resources to help people look after themselves physically and mentally during self-isolation.

Lisa Rutherford, Research Director at the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen), said: “Compliance with the requirement to self-isolate was high, although survey evidence indicates that not everyone managed to follow the guidelines quite as well as they thought. Self-isolation can be challenging, and we know from this research that, for some, the requirement impacted on their mental health and on their finances and this was especially true for young people in particular. It is encouraging that, when accessed, formal support was viewed as beneficial. Building the profile of the formal support on offer could help improve people’s experiences of self-isolation and simultaneously help them self-isolate successfully.”


The research is available at  

For more information please contact:

Katie Crabb, Head of Marketing and Communications
National Centre for Social Research
tel: 0207 549 8504

Notes to editors

1. The Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) is an independent, not for profit organisation. ScotCen is an integral part of the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen). We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

2. ScotCen was commissioned by the Scottish Government to conduct research with the aim of measuring rates of compliance with the requirement to self-isolate among those in the Test and Protect system in Scotland, their experiences of self-isolation and the impact of the resources offered in supporting self-isolation.

3. A total of 4,325 Test and Protect cases took part in the survey, with three waves of fieldwork carried out between 19th March and 2nd June 2021 with adults aged 16 or over. The survey was opt-in and is therefore not representative of everyone asked to self-isolate, but only of those who took part in the research. In addition to the quantitative survey, 30 survey participants who took part in Wave 1, and who consented to being re-contacted for a follow-up interview, took part in an in-depth telephone interview in April/May 2021.