Publication - Research and analysis

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Our shared role in containing the virus: Analysis of responses submitted as part of the Scottish Government's second public engagement exercise

This report outlines the themes emerging from a rapid analysis of the public engagement exercise that took place 5-11 October 2020 on the Scottish Government's approach to managing the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Our shared role in containing the virus: Analysis of responses submitted as part of the Scottish Government's second public engagement exercise
4) Individual behaviour

4) Individual behaviour

Commentary covered a range of actions taken by individuals to control the spread of the virus and keep others safe. These included actions to maintain physical distancing, wearing face coverings, limiting travel, adhering to quarantine guidance and choosing to go out at less busy times.

However, there was considerable discussion on how to encourage those actions to be taken by individuals, what level of enforcement there should be and the circumstances under which compliance would be more likely.

Key themes discussed included:

  • Hygiene
  • Physical distancing
  • Changing behaviour
  • Safe travel


Some respondents reported that they took measures to maintain good hand hygiene or reduce risk by ensuring school clothes were changed daily.

Face covering was a recurring theme across a large number of ideas. Respondents had concerns about enforcement, and were concerned about safety in situations where individuals did not wear masks, particularly in crowded or enclosed spaces. Some contributors wanted stronger mandates for face coverings in public places, including outdoors, schools and in the workplace as seen in other countries such as Japan.

Contributors expressed their concerns with the lack of face coverings and masks they had observed while using public transport. These concerns had made some fear using public transport. Additionally, some contributors advocated for greater powers to be given to bus/train drivers and staff to enforce the use of face masks. This was among one of the more commented-on ideas.

‘I too can become very frustrated when people do not wear masks on buses, or just over their mouth or (my particular "favourite") on their chin. But some people are genuinely exempt, and if people are wilfully disregarding the rules, I am not sure how bus drivers can keep safe themselves and enforce this. And I am not sure it is fair on drivers either.’

Contributors recognised that some people are exempt from wearing face coverings and masks. Ideas were given about how to justify exemptions, including cards/certificates or lanyards that can be presented to show they are unable to wear a mask. This attracted a high level of engagement. However, concerns were expressed over this being discriminatory towards those with disabilities. Additionally there was some concern that drivers could not be expected to enforce this. One contributor suggested looking at how countries with a higher rate of compliance had managed to enforce the use of masks on public transport.

Still others were concerned about the lack of people following good practice in how to wear face coverings and the circumstances in which this should happen (on buses, entering or leaving buildings etc.). Education of the public was considered to be necessary to remedy this. However others believed that it was simply not being enforced to the same extent as in other countries with the force of law and escalating fines.

‘The main reason why the UK is back to being one of Europe’s most affected countries is because what here is [treated as] “advice”, in other countries is law and it is enforced by the police. If face masks are compulsory in shops and on buses, those who don’t wear it should be fined for the first time (min. £250), the fine should be triple for the second time, and after the second time you should go to court, and jail. Do you have a medical condition? It should be proven by a specialist doctor, after detailed analysis.’

A number of contributors proposed the introduction of an app where people could report non-compliance. Some criticised the idea, saying that this would encourage spying between members of the public while others saw this as an act of social solidarity with those suffering because of the restrictions they comply with. It was also argued that it would enable the police and others to be smarter in their enforcement by being able to identify particular ‘hotspots’ and patterns for deploying resources.

Physical distancing[8]

Respondents said they undertook a range of actions to comply with physical distancing guidelines and advice:

  • Not meeting up with others indoors
  • Keeping to a household bubble
  • Working from home
  • Applying ‘common sense’
  • Avoiding public transport
  • Avoiding shops - relying on ‘click & collect’ and home delivery more
  • Voluntary shielding

A small number of respondents expressed a belief that there was inconsistency in relation to the restrictions in place, for example, controls on indoor meetings, compared to numbers allowed in licensed premises. Others felt that some of the restrictions, such as social distancing between friends, were unrealistic or impractical, even where they were being otherwise cautious across their day to day lives.

Contributors highlighted a number of aspects in the restrictions where changes would help them to comply. These included more information sharing about local virus data and allowing people to form larger social bubbles. Conversely, some argued for simpler sets of rules, reinforced by government communications, that would ensure greater clarity on what was required.

Changing behaviour[9]

Respondents differed on how to secure compliance with the measures that were announced. Frustration with the perceived lack of adherence to the rules was commonplace in contributions, some of which asked for greater enforcement, including the employment of ‘marshals’ who could be furloughed or unemployed workers. However, this idea attracted limited support. Enforcement by the police was often called for, but seen by others to be difficult because of the scale of the task, e.g. house parties, or not visible enough, e.g. on trains.

Compliance could also be secured by restricting the amount of alcohol sold by off-licenses or supermarkets, which was perceived to cause gathering of groups less likely to keep their distance. Others believed that incentives were helpful in ensuring people did the right thing.

‘It's (…) for other smarter people to figure out ways to; a) correctly track those who are engaging in good behaviours for Covid-19 b) provide incentives to continue those good behaviours. basic psych, carrot is better than stick (…).’

Others were concerned that the circumstances, in which good social distancing or hygiene was possible, were difficult. This was rooted in a range of concerns – overcrowding on public transport, in public spaces, crowding after the 10pm curfew or school/work rush hours, and a lack of good examples being given to follow.

Safe travel[10]

Contributions covered public transport, with some advocating for limited seating, and others proposing there should be greater encouragement to use buses and trains for wider reasons generally. Specific concerns were raised about the number of school students that use public transport at peak times. Some called for separate services to be operated by schools in order to limit passenger numbers.

‘Running secondary school buses at maximum capacity is not social distancing. Especially when a high percentage of pupils now refuse to wear a mask. There is no enforcement and they are not refused transport as education is considered more important. I think extra school buses are needed on these busy contracts to allow for social distancing. Some of these 12 [metre] single deck coaches carry 70 pupils. Too many in my opinion.’[11]