Most Britons would abide by self-isolation rules

More certain to stay at home if they test positive for coronavirus themselves than if they are told to self-isolate because of close contact with another or arriving from another country according to our survey for the BBC.

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs
Get in touch

In a new survey by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the BBC, most people (and especially women and older generations) say they are very likely/ certain to abide by self-isolation rules if they test positive for coronavirus, come into close contact with someone who tests positive or return from a country that is not exempt from these rules.  Few find reasons for breaking quarantine acceptable – in order to care for others is seen as the best excuse, but still only by a minority.

Overall, a large majority of Britons say they are very likely or certain that they will follow government guidelines and self-isolate should they test positive, come in close contact with someone who is positive, or arrive in Britain from a non-exempt country. Eighty-four per cent will do so if they themselves test positive for coronavirus while 77% will do the same should they come into close contact with someone who tests positive. A further 71% say they would quarantine if they returned from a country without a ‘travel corridor’. 

Women are more likely to follow these rules than men; 4 in 5 (82%) are very likely/ certain to self-isolate after being told they had been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, compared with 72% of men. Over three-quarters (78%) of women say it is very likely/ certain that they would quarantine after returning from a country without a travel corridor but just under two-thirds of men (64%) say they would do the same. 

Younger generations are less likely to follow the rules than their elders, although still a clear majority. While 9 in 10 (89%) of those aged 35-75 say they are very likely/ certain to quarantine after receiving a positive diagnosis, three-quarters of 18-34-year olds say the same. Seven in ten (69%) of this age group say they would self-isolate for two weeks after being told they had come into contact with someone with a recent diagnosis, compared with 78% of 35-54s and 84% of 55-75s. 

The same pattern is seen when considering returning from a country that is not exempt from the rules. Just over 3 in 5 (62%) of 18-34s would be very likely/ certain to quarantine in this circumstance, increasing to three-quarters of 35-54-year olds and those aged between 55 and 75. Perhaps unsurprising after young people were seen to be most likely to go abroad in a recent survey

Britons are likely to be sceptical towards excuses given for breaking self-isolation rules, believing that most are unacceptable reasons for not staying at home. For each scenario given, the most acceptable reason to break quarantine would be to care for friends/ family outside of your household (but still to only a minority): 34% say this is at least a fairly acceptable excuse for those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, 29% if you yourself have tested positive and 26% if you have returned from another country that has not been made exempt from the rules. 

However, simply visiting friends and family is not a good enough reason for many Britons. This is seen as an acceptable excuse for leaving quarantine after testing positive by only 15%, while 16% deem it acceptable for those returning from another country and 17% say the same for those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

Gideon Skinner, Head of Political Research at Ipsos MORI, said: 

It’s clear the large majority of Britons want, at least, to obey the rules on staying at home due to the coronavirus, in line with their overall attitude towards the pandemic and support for many of the restrictions that we’ve seen so far.  Even while there are clear differences by age and by gender, it’s still only a minority who admit they might be unlikely to stick to quarantine.   However, circumstances matter, and the instinctive certainty that people would stay at home if they themselves test positive drops noticeably if it is actually due to being informed they have been in close contact with someone else who tested positive, or if returning to the UK from a non-exempt country, suggesting it is in these scenarios that the government needs to focus its powers of persuasion.
There is a similar pattern of social norms when it comes to potential reasons for breaking quarantine, such as going to work, education or for socialising.  Overall, few see them as acceptable excuses for not staying at home, but much more strongly among women than men and older people than young people, and if they themselves test positive rather than after being told to stay at home by contact tracing or after flying back to the UK.   And around two in ten do think breaking quarantine for these reasons would be acceptable, rising to three in ten if people need to care for others.

Technical note:

  • Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 1,060 adults aged 18-75 in Great Britain using its online i:omnibus between 25th and  28th September 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age, working status and social grade within gender, government office region and education.  All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs

More insights about Culture

Society