Public health information on COVID-19 for international travellers: Lessons learned from a rapid mixed-method evaluation in the UK containment phase

Tingting Zhang, Charlotte Robin, Shenghan Cai, Clare Sawyer, Wendy Rice, Louise E. Smith, Richard Amlôt, G. James Rubin, Rosy Reynolds, Lucy Yardley, Matthew Hickman, Isabel Oliver, Helen Lambert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

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In the containment phase of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Public Health England (PHE) delivered advice to travellers arriving at major UK ports. We aimed to rapidly evaluate the impact and effectiveness of these communication materials for passengers in the early stages of the pandemic.

In stage I (Patient and Public Involvement, PPI) we interviewed seven travellers who had returned from China in January and February 2020. We used these results to develop a questionnaire and topic guides for stage II, a cross-sectional survey and follow-up interviews with passengers arriving at London Heathrow Airport on scheduled flights from China and Singapore. The survey assessed passengers’ knowledge of symptoms, actions to take and attitudes towards PHE COVID-19 public health information; interviews explored their views of official public health information and self-isolation.

In stage II, 121 passengers participated in the survey and 15 in follow-up interviews. 8319 associated symptoms listed in PHE information at that time. Most could identify the recommended actions and found the advice understandable and trustworthy. Interviews revealed that passengers shared concerns about the lack of wider official action, and that passengers’ knowledge had been acquired elsewhere as much from PHE. Respondents also noted their own agency in choosing to self-isolate, partially as a self-protective measure.

PHE COVID-19 public health information was perceived as clear and acceptable, but we found that passengers acquired knowledge from various sources and they saw the provision of information alone on arrival as an insufficient official response. Our study provides fresh insights into the importance of taking greater account of diverse information sources and of the need for public assurance in creating public health information materials to address global health threats.

Competing Interest Statement
The authors have declared no competing interest.

Funding Statement
This study was funded by NIHR on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care. The authors acknowledge support from the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol, in partnership with Public Health England (PHE). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR, the Department of Health and Social Care, or PHE.Author DeclarationsI confirm all relevant ethical guidelines have been followed, and any necessary IRB and/or ethics committee approvals have been obtained.YesThe details of the IRB/oversight body that provided approval or exemption for the research described are given below:This study was a form of service evaluation, therefore no ethical approval was required. This was confirmed by PHE’s ethics committee - PHE Research Ethics and Governance Group.All necessary patient/participant consent has been obtained and the appropriate institutional forms have been archived.YesI understand that all clinical trials and any other prospective interventional studies must be registered with an ICMJE-approved registry, such as I confirm that any such study reported in the manuscript has been registered and the trial registration ID is provided (note: if posting a prospective study registered retrospectively, please provide a statement in the trial ID field explaining why the study was not registered in advance).Yes I have followed all appropriate research reporting guidelines and uploaded the relevant EQUATOR Network research reporting checklist(s) and other pertinent material as supplementary files, if applicable.YesThe data generated or analysed during this study are included in this article; data are available from authors from Public Health England or University of Bristol upon reasonable request
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sep 2020

Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health
  • Covid19


  • COVID-19
  • public health advice
  • government
  • policy
  • airport
  • international travel


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