Covid-19 studies, Our research

Wave 3 SCRUB Covid-19 survey: Findings about Australians’ protective behaviours

Change matters

* Pease note that this is part of an ongoing study and that updates will be provided in separate blog posts. Track back to wave 1&2 results here.

Written by Peter Slattery and the SCRUB media team (Georgia Buckland, Sanjana Suresh Babu, Marta Mangiarulo, Piper Oren and Emily Grundy)

BehavioursWorks Australia, a research enterprise within the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, is leading the Australian chapter of the Survey of COVID-19 Responses to Understand Behaviour (SCRUB) project, which aims to give policymakers actionable insights into public attitudes and behaviours relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.


More than 120 international collaborators are involved in the project, and over 5,000 people in 40 countries have participated in the survey.


What are we collecting?

The survey measures behaviour, behavioural drivers, COVID-19 attitudes and beliefs, and demographic variables. Outputs include:



  • An interactive dashboard of survey responses,

  • Open data for research academics to answer urgent behavioural research questions and use as a resource for future pandemic preparedness.


Current status

The following are a few findings from the third wave of Australian data, collected between 12/5/2020 – 17/5/2020 and funded by the Victorian Government.


Protective behaviours

It is clear that the number of cases in Australia has significantly reduced since mid-March (see Australian Government, Department of Health statistics).


While announcements have been released about the easing of restrictions, SCRUB data tells us some of the behavioural choices Australians are making.


The graph below (a screenshot from the SCRUB interactive dashboard) summarises responses to some of our behavioural questions.


The light and dark blue sections indicate those who reported often or always doing the behaviour. The yellow, orange and red sections indicate those who ‘sometimes’, ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ did the behaviour.

  • Text Hover

As the graph shows, the majority of Australians adhered to key personal protective behaviours recommended to stop the spread of COVID-19. Australians consistently maintained physical distance in public spaces and, to a lesser extent, stayed at home and practiced good hand hygiene.


Later in this article, we examine the barriers to staying at home and adhering to hand hygiene advice.


Of concern is the uptake of the COVIDSafe mobile phone app, a recent addition to the government’s strategy to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 using tracing methods. Over half of respondents (56%) were ‘sometimes’, ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ using the app in public.

Changes in preventative behaviours over time

The graph below (a screenshot from the SCRUB interactive dashboard) provides a visual representation of how Australians’ preventative behaviours regarding COVID-19 are changing across our three waves of data collection (March, April, and May).


The vertical scale indicates the frequency with which behaviours are being performed (1 = Never doing the behaviour over the last 7 days (5 = Always doing the behaviour over the last 7 days).


Future data collection waves will provide insight into how popularity of the COVID-19 tracing app has changed over time.

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The graph shows that at the peak of COVID-19 breakout (March-April 2020), most Australians were adhering to the five key behaviours recommended by the Australian Government Department of Health to stop the spread of the virus.


However, adherence rates dropped slightly in May, possibly due to loosening restrictions or decreasing infection rates.

Demographic and state differences 

The following table has been extracted from a detailed Wave 3 report delivered to the Victorian government.


A publicly viewable version of the report can be created upon request.

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As the table above shows, men and women were similarly likely to perform protective behaviours.


Older adults (50+) were more likely to practice protective behaviours, such as keeping distance in public and washing hands for 20 seconds with soap.


People over 70 were most likely to use the COVIDsafe app when in public, with 60–69 year olds (38%) being the least likely age group to do so.


From a state perspective, South Australian (36%) has the lowest uptake, while NSW (48%) has the highest.


Barriers to protective behaviours

The graphs below (screenshots from the interactive dashboard) show data from people who were ‘sometimes’, ‘rarely’, or ‘never’ engaging in protective behaviours.


Drawing on behavioural theory, we asked them to select which factors influenced their non-compliance. In this section we focus on two protective behaviours—staying at home and washing hands—and the barriers preventing their uptake.

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As shown above, the vast majority of Australians were aware of the necessity to stay at home, knew how to do it, remembered to do it, and wanted to do it.


However, a small portion of the population (9%) did not have the resources to carry out this behaviour and a much larger percentage (45%) reported that their perception that ‘no one else is doing this behaviour’ was a barrier.

  • Text Hover

As shown above, all Australian respondents knew how to wash their hands and almost everyone knew about it, wanted to do it, and had the resources to do it.


More than a quarter of respondents (26%) reported that their perception that ‘no one else is doing it’ was a barrier.


More than a third (35%) indicated that forgetting to wash their hands was an issue.


Implications for policymakers

Here are some quick insights and implications for policymakers that emerge from the data:



  • Insight: Over half (56%) of respondents are ‘sometimes’, ‘rarely’, or ‘never’ using the COVID-19 app in public. Implication: Increasing uptake of the app should remain a focus, and the necessity of using it in public should be emphasised.

  • Insight: The age groups least likely to use the COVIDSafe app in public were 18–29 year olds and 60–69 year olds. Implication: Focus on sources, channels, and messaging that will reach and appeal to these cohorts.

  • Insight: Young adults, aged 18–29 years, are still performing protective behaviours significantly less often than other groups. Implication: Focus on sources, channels, and messages that will reach and appeal to young adults (e.g., social media campaigns, influencers etc.).

  • Insight: More than a third of respondents indicated that forgetting to wash their hands was an issue. Implication: Increasing the frequency of reminders to practice good hand hygiene may increase their adherence. Explore if there are opportunities to distribute stickers, signs, and other environmental prompts to help people remember to wash their hands.

  • Insight: Almost 10% of participants who did not stay at home were influenced by not having the resources to do so. Implication: Advertise and increase knowledge of services, such as online shopping, that allow people to access resources without leaving home. The usefulness of this advice is dependent on whether staying at home remains a priority.

  • Insight: Believing that others were not staying at home was a barrier for almost half of the participants who were ‘sometimes’, ‘rarely’, or ‘never’ engaging in this protective behaviour. Implication: Use ‘social proof’ techniques in messaging – communicate that most people are willingly staying at home. This may influence non-compliant individuals to stay at home more often.


Learn more or get involved

To learn more about the SCRUB survey, please visit the website and interactive dashboard. You can access the survey and data here.


You can also help the research team provide more policy-relevant snapshots of the COVID-19 pandemic by taking part in the survey here.


Email peter.slattery@monash.edu if you would like to use the SCRUB survey to collect data in your country or state (voluntarily or funded) or want access to the data.

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