Measures are needed to support people to fully self-isolate, as new research shows that less than a third of people are adhering to the rules when they are required to, a health and social care committee has warned.
Professor Susan Michie, director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London, has told the Health, Social Care and Sport (HSCS) Committee in Wales that only half of people are recognising the three core symptoms of COVID.
She added: “If people aren’t recognising the symptoms, then they’re not going to get tested. If they’re not going to get tested, they’re not going to be in a situation where they’re likely to be asked to isolate, or consider that they should isolate because they recognise those symptoms.”
In September, the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours published a paper on support for those who need to self-isolate or quarantine. It stated that current rates of full self-isolation are likely very low (<20%) based on self-report.
But Professor Michie, who is also a member of SPI-B, updated the HSCS Committee on the data in November and said “it’s gone up now to 29%”.
Evidence suggests that 80% of people need to self-isolate for a track and trace system to be effective in reducing the reproduction (R) number.
Between 29 November and 5 December 2020, the Test, Track, Protect (TTP) system in Wales reached 91% of positive cases to ask for details of their recent contacts. Contact tracers then successfully contacted 81% of those recent contacts and advised them to self-isolate.
SAGE has stated that “adherence rates [are] particularly low among younger populations and those from socio-economic disadvantaged communities”.
SPI-B said that this is likely to be “contributing to inequalities in the impact of COVID-19”.
There are a range of factors that impact on a person’s ability or willingness to self-isolate, including financial loss, the need to care for elderly or vulnerable relatives, or a lack of understanding of the rationale for adherence.
However, Professor Michie said these are problems that financial and practical support can solve.
SPI-B has stated that support for affected communities is important because infection is more likely in deprived communities who are more in need of support both to get tested and to self-isolate.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, told the HSCS Committee that “all of the UK nations have to work on […] supporting people better”. She said “we need to pay people to stay home” and that “you can’t penalise people for an act of goodwill, which is that they are isolating not to infect others.”