COVID-19 support study: international travellers research findings from May 2021

Interim findings only and based on waves 1, 2 and 3 of fieldwork carried out between 19 to 31 March 2021, 12 April to 5th May 2021 and 10 May to 2 June 2021.

This document is part of a collection

The findings included here are interim findings only and based on online survey fieldwork for all three waves which were carried out between:

  • wave 1: Friday 19 March 2021 and Wednesday 31 March 2021
  • wave 2: Monday 12 April and Wednesday 5 May 2021
  • wave 3: Monday 10 May and Wednesday 2 June 2021

Data for some measures has been presented for all three waves combined, while others are broken down by wave, where appropriate and where sample sizes allow. Analysis is ongoing and further breakdown by wave, where appropriate, will be made in the final report. This report builds on the previous interim reports.

Initial observations from the qualitative interviews have been included in the summary section of the slides, where appropriate.

When interpreting the survey findings included in this report it should be borne in mind that:

  • this is an opt-in survey. Therefore findings are representative of survey participants and not all those asked to self-isolate by Test and Protect
  • while the results are based on all three waves of data collection full tests of statistical significance will only be carried out at the final reporting stage. However, there are a few instances throughout this report where statistical significance is referenced


To date, 53,527 eligible adults from Test & Protect have been invited to take part in the survey (wave 1 = 12, 751, wave 2=21,354, wave 3= 19,422).

  • a total of 4,325 adults have participated in the survey to date (wave 1=917, wave 2=1748, wave 3=1660)
  • response rates vary by case type, with international travellers most likely to take part (wave 1=14%, wave 2=12%, wave 3=12%) and contact cases least likely to participate (waves 1 and 2=4%, wave 3=5%)

Notes on response rate: additional interviews completed after the analysis cut off points for each wave (including by telephone) have been included, therefore, base numbers for waves 1 and 2 have been updated since previous publications.

Findings on international traveller participants that took part in the survey are presented in this section. Index and contact case findings are presented separately.

Planning for self-isolation

During wave 3 Scotland moved to align with the UK Government traffic light system for international travel. In previous waves international travellers that arrived directly into Scotland had to enter managed isolation, wherever they arrived from.

Across waves 1-3 almost all international travellers that took part in the survey had made arrangements for their self-isolation before arriving into Scotland, with just 2% reporting that they did not make arrangements in advance. Around 8 in 10 (82%) booked a test kit to self-isolate at home, while 16% reported booking a managed isolation (quarantine) package.

The most common pre-departure arrangements made by international travellers was to book a COVID-19 test kit for home use. This was particularly true among those who arrived into Scotland via another UK country (95%). Just under a quarter (24%) of those who travelled directly into Scotland had booked a managed hotel quarantine package in advance, while 74% had arranged to self-isolate at home. Very small proportions, in both groups, indicated having booked neither a managed quarantine package or a COVID-19 test kit to self-isolate at home.

Around seven in ten (71%) agreed that it was easy to book and pay for their particular self-isolation arrangement. Sixteen percent did not agree that their arrangement was easy to book and pay for and a similar proportion neither agreed nor disagreed (13%).

Overall compliance

Please see the study overview section for more information on how compliance was measured.

When asked directly how well they managed to comply with self-isolation, most (91%) international travellers that participated were of the view that they complied ‘all of the time’. While just 9% of international travellers that took part in the survey felt they managed to comply with the requirement to self-isolate ‘some of the time’, no-one reported being unable to comply with the requirement at all.

However, according to our behavioural measure, full compliance was 70% and partial compliance 29%. Non-compliance was low on both the self-assessed and behavioural measures.

The majority of international travellers in both a managed quarantine package (79%) and those self-isolating at home (72%) were fully compliant in terms of the behavioural measure. Over a quarter of those self-isolating at home were partially compliant based on the behavioural measure (28%) compared with 21% of those in a managed quarantine package.

The behavioural measure comes from responses to (i) how soon began self-isolation, (ii) whether they left self-isolation and (iii) how many days, in total they isolated for.

Note that a person who didn’t start self-isolation straight away, but who only reported COVID-19 test related activities before starting, was treated as compliant on the ‘when started isolation’ measure. Similarly someone who reported leaving home/accommodation during isolation for a COVID-19 test related reason only was handled as compliant on this measure. This was a change between waves 1 and 2 to ensure COVID-19 tests were appropriately handled across all relevant measures. 

Summary of compliance behaviours

Across all 3 waves:

  • nine in ten (90%) international traveller respondents reported complying with the requirement to begin self-isolation immediately
  • around four-fifths complied with the requirement to not leave their home/accommodation during the self-isolation period (this includes those who did report leaving home but only for a permitted reason) (79%)
  • among those who left for any reason other than to get/return a test, the most common activities were going to the shops for groceries, toiletries or medicine (23%) and/or outdoor recreation (17%)
  • just under a fifth (16%) reported being in close contact with someone from outside their household during their period of self-isolation
  • the vast majority isolated for the required number of days or were still in isolation at the time of survey fieldwork (99%)

The group of international travellers that reported leaving their home/accommodation during their period of self-isolation was almost exclusively made up of those self-isolating at home.

Knowledge of rules and guidance

When asked how many days someone should self-isolate for if they tested positive for COVID-19, just over half (55%) of international traveller participants answered 10 days. A significant proportion (41%) reported the requirement was to isolate for 11 days or more, with 14 days being the most common answer (given by 37% of all international travellers). Just 3% reported that the official guidance was to isolate for fewer days than is actually the case.

Eighty percent of international travellers that took part reported that it was ‘correct’ that a person should self-isolate for 10 days if they’ve been informed they have been in close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, even if they later tested negative themselves. Around one in ten (12%) reported that the statement was ‘incorrect’ while 9% weren’t sure either way.


Most (95%) international travellers that took part and reported having been tested for COVID-19 reported that the result of their most recent test was negative. At the time of taking part in the survey, 5% had not received the result of their most recent test, and <0.5% reported a positive test.

It was not possible to explore compliance by result of last COVID-19 test given the high proportion (95%) of international travellers that tested negative at their most recent test.

Attitudes and experiences

Mental health

International travellers were asked whether they thought self-isolation had a positive or negative impact on their own mental health or did not impact on it either way.

Across waves 1-3, just under half (49%) of international travellers reported that self-isolation had a negative impact on their mental health, 43% said it made no difference, while 8% said it had impacted positively.

Participants were also asked what impact, if any, their own requirement to self-isolate had on the mental health of others in their household/accommodation. Around a third (37%) of international travellers reported that their own requirement to self-isolate had negatively impacted on the mental health of others in the home. Over half (56%) reported that it had neither a positive or negative impact on the mental health of others in their household/accommodation.


Half of the international travellers that took part indicated that they had managed/were managing comfortably on their household income at the time of taking part (50%), while 14% indicated that they had struggled/were struggling over the period.

Understanding information

International travellers that took part in the survey were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement that ‘It was easy to understand the Scottish Government information on international travel rules during the pandemic’.

While just over half (53%) of all international travellers agreed that the Scottish Government information was easy to understand, around a third (32%) did not agree that this was the case.

Views on self-isolation and travel restrictions

Around 8 in 10 (81%) international travellers that took part in the survey were in agreement that self-isolation was an ‘effective way of helping prevent the spread of COVID-19’. Just 8% disagreed with the statement suggesting they do not view self-isolation an effective strategy.

When asked if they agreed or disagreed that ‘international travel restrictions would help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and new variants of it’, 6 in 10 international travellers agreed that they would (61%). Two in 10 (20%) disagreed with the statement and a similar proportion (19%) neither agreed nor disagreed.

Government or individual decision-making on self-isolation

Participants were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement ‘It should be up to the individual, not the government, to decide whether they need to self-isolate or not’.

The majority of international travellers that took part did not agree that it should be up to individuals to decide whether to self-isolate or not (70%). Fifteen percent agreed with the statement that it should be left to the individual to decide, while an equal proportion (15%) neither agreed nor disagreed. 

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