Support packages to get people to complete self-isolation needed as ‘matter of urgency’, experts warn

Government scientific advisers warned that support packages including financial aid should be rolled out as a “matter of urgency” to encourage more people to self-isolate for the full period required.

New papers published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on Friday said current rates of full self-isolation for people in the community with cough, fever or anosmia were around 18%-25%.

The report, by the independent Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-b), added that rates were particularly low among the youngest and poorest.

It said rates would be likely to improve with the addition of different forms of support including financial, “tangible non-financial”, information and emotional.

The report, dated September 16, added: “The effectiveness of the NHS test, trace and isolate system in reducing transmission of Sars-CoV-2 depends critically upon self-isolation of people who may have Covid-19 and their contacts

“Current rates of full self-isolation are likely very low (less than 20%) based on self-report.

“They are particularly low among the youngest and the poorest, thereby likely contributing to inequalities in the impact of Covid-19.

“Provision of a support package that encompasses these four components – but particularly the first (financial) – should be rolled out and evaluated as a matter of urgency in order to realise the considerable investment made in testing programmes and the potential of testing and self-isolation to contribute to economic recovery and prevention of disease.”

Government guidance says anyone with coronavirus symptoms, however mild, should self-isolate for at least 10 days from when their symptoms started.

People told to self-isolate by the test and trace service should comply for 14 days from the day they were last in contact with the person who tested positive.

Travellers arriving in the UK from countries not on the Government’s quarantine exemption list must also self-isolate for 14 days.

The Spi-b report said financial support that ensures people do not experience economic hardship when self-isolating is likely to encourage more people to complete it.

“Tangible non-financial” support is likely to differ between households but could include helping people with shopping for food or caring for elderly relatives, it added.

The report said that an information campaign similar to “hands, face, space” might be helpful to get people to understand why and how to self-isolate, while support for people’s psychological wellbeing is also likely to “bolster adherence”.

It added: “Provision of financial support to safeguard incomes would likely have the single largest effect in achieving equitable self-isolation policies, in other words self-isolation that benefits the social groups with fewest material and other resources as well as those with the most.

“Employment protection should also be offered for those needing to self-isolate, including parents who may need to stay at home with a child who is required to self-isolate.

“Given that self-isolation is the cornerstone of reducing community transmission of Sars-CoV-2, the evidence is sufficiently compelling to begin implementation of a support package that encompasses the four areas outlined in this paper, as one important step towards to increasing the current likely very low rates of self-isolation.

This should be taken up as priority by DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care).

Spi-b provides independent behavioural science advice to Sage.

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