Encouraging self-isolation to prevent the spread of Covid-19

M. A. Arden, C. J. Armitage, L. Lewis, E. Whittaker, J. Hart, D. B. O'Connor, P. Chadwick, J. Drury, Vivian Swanson, L. Byrne-Davis, E. McBride, S. Perriard-Abdoh, G. W. Shorter, T. Epton, A. Kamal, A. Chater

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Self-isolation is a key part of the UK strategy to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by people who are symptomatic and have tested positive, and for those who are at risk of developing Covid-19 due to having had close contact with someone with symptoms or a positive test. Self-isolation means that the person needs to stay at home and not leave except to take a Covid-19 test or in a life-threatening emergency and not to accept visitors to the home.

The NHS test and trace services and local public health teams have been working to identify those at risk and to ask them to self-isolate, but adherence is low. Our learning from other behaviours (e.g. non-adherence to medication), from relevant psychological theories and from research studies exploring the factors affecting self-isolation in infectious disease pandemics have informed this document

The analysis and recommendations presented also draw on the British Psychological Society’s Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention: Psychological guidance.

People need to understand exactly what they need to do, why they need to do it, how they need to do it and when. This includes explaining what self-isolation means and what symptoms to look for.

It is important that people understand that self-isolation is different from social
isolation/lockdown (when people were permitted to shop for essentials and to have one period of exercise outside of the home).

People should be supported and encouraged to make plans for self-isolation in advance.

Services need to be able to support people to ensure that everyone has a suitable and safe place to self-isolate, has access to the food and essential supplies that they need, and can contact health services if their symptoms worsen or they need assistance to look after dependents (e.g. children or elderly relatives).

Employers and community groups should be encouraged to provide support and
to make self-isolation a normal, valued and accepted thing to do.

Fines for not adhering to self-isolation should only be considered after it has been established that a person has the appropriate resources and support to enable self-isolation.

Communications should persuade about the benefits of self-isolation for oneself and others but these may need to be tailored for different groups who may have different motivations and require different types of messages from credible sources for that population.

People should be provided with positive feedback about how their adherence to self-isolation has been beneficial.

People should ideally be compensated for financial losses incurred as a result of self-isolation, and other incentives (financial or material) could also be offered.

Communications should emphasise the practical and emotional support that is available for people to self-isolate so that they can feel confident that they can do it effectively.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLeicester
PublisherBritish Psychological Society
Commissioning bodyBritish Psychological Society
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2020


  • Covid-19
  • COVID-19 guidance
  • behavioural science
  • psychology
  • health psychology
  • Social isolation
  • behaviour change wheel
  • public health


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