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Publication Detail
Facilitators and Barriers to Compliance with COVID-19 Guidelines: A Structural Topic Modelling Analysis of Free-Text Data from 17,500 UK Adults


During the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government has implemented a series of guidelines, rules, and restrictions to change citizens’ behaviour to tackle the spread of the virus, such as the promotion of face-masks and the imposition of lockdown stay-at-home orders. The success of these measures requires active co-operation on the part of citizens, but compliance has not been complete. Detailed data is required on the factors aiding or hindering compliance with these measures.


To understand the facilitators and barriers to compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, we used structural topic modelling, a text mining technique, to extract themes from over 26,000 free-text survey responses from 17,500 UK adults, collected between 17 November and 23 December 2020.


The main factors facilitating compliance were desires to reduce risk to one’s self and one’s family and friends and to, a lesser extent, the general public. Also of importance were a desire to return to normality, the availability of activities and technological means to contact family and friends, and the ability to work from home. Identified barriers were difficulties maintaining social distancing in public (due to the actions of other people or environmental constraints), the need to provide or receive support from family and friends, social isolation, missing loved one, and mental health impacts, perceiving the risks as low, social pressure to not comply, and difficulties understanding and keep abreast of changing rules. Several of the barriers and facilitators raised were related to participant characteristics. Notably, women were more likely to discuss needing to provide or receive mental health support from friends and family.


The results demonstrate an array of factors contribute to compliance with guidelines. Of particular policy importance, the results suggest that government communications that emphasizes the potential risks of COVID-19 and provides simple, consistent guidance on how to reduce the spread of the virus would improve compliance with preventive behaviours.
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