Barriers to adherence with COVID-19 restrictions

This report presents information from qualitative research into people’s experiences about how they understand and feel able to adhere to coronavirus restrictions.


Scotland's Strategic Framework sets out why compliance and adherence with restrictions and guidance are a crucial part of the response to suppressing COVID-19.[1] This report presents information from research into people's experiences and includes people's own words about how they understand and feel able to adhere to the rules and guidance.

Polling data and other research has previously highlighted practical and emotional barriers that can affect people's ability to adhere to restrictions.[2],[3] In order to develop the understanding of these barriers, and to better support people across Scotland to keep themselves and their communities safe, the Scottish Government conducted this new research to look at a number of questions about what people find easy, what they find difficult, and what further support would help them.

An online survey was set up to collect this information. It was available publically on the Scottish Government website from 4 to 18 December 2020. The survey was also promoted through a range of stakeholder organisations. In total, 457 responses were received, including 96 from people with some direct experience of self-isolation.[4]

Although it does not provide a nationally representative sample, this report provides a deeper level of understanding of the issues that people are facing, the links to wider wellbeing, and where additional support may further enable people to adhere to restrictions.


We are grateful to the people who took part in the research and provided information about their experiences.

Main findings and observations:

  • The experience of the pandemic so far has been emotional for many. People are tired and are missing social connections.
  • Despite this, people appear to care about the impact of their actions on other people – both those they know personally and their wider communities. This motivates some people to adhere.
  • Restrictions that have less impact on time and finances, and are less emotionally challenging are easier to adhere to. Face coverings, physical distancing and handwashing were reported as being easiest to adhere to because they are relatively straightforward.
  • Restrictions which have more impact on time and finances, and are more emotionally challenging are more difficult to adhere to. Travel restrictions and the impact on social interaction were reported as being difficult to adhere to because of their impact.
  • People's capacity to adhere to various restrictions, including self-isolation, is affected by a range of practical factors, including their living arrangements, caring responsibilities, availability of food, finances, and health conditions.
  • Finances have a strong impact on people's capacity to adhere to restrictions, including self-isolation and working from home, especially when they are worried about losing income.
  • People feel a sense of solidarity and are encouraged to adhere themselves when they see other people following the restrictions. On the other hand, when people see others not adhering, they feel discouraged.
  • Clear and accessible communications which justify and explain the importance of restrictions, and off-set the practical and emotional costs of compliance appear to be important elements for improving adherence.



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