The outbreak of Covid-19 continues to evolve and practitioners may have questions regarding what they should do in their businesses plus also contact with participants.  Below is some general advice to assist practitioners.

This advice is based on current understanding and will be updated should government and health advice change significantly.  It should be noted this does not replace government advice; it is meant to supplement the official sources with the addition of some research considerations.  Remember to continue to check the up-to-date guidance on the government website.

Overview: What is Covid-19 and how to avoid it?

Covid-19 is caused by the coronavirus which affect lungs and airways.  Signs of Covid-19 include experiencing a cough, fever or shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. The symptoms are similar to other illness such as cold and flu and includes:

  • A cough
  • A high temperature
  • Shortness of breath

It is still not known exactly how the virus spreads from person to person. Although similar viruses are spread via cough droplets.

The best way to avoid the spread of Covid-19 is to take the following personal actions:
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water (best option) or use sanitiser gel (alternative).
  • Ensure you have tissues readily available.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue (NOT your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Avoid close contact with people who display indications of being unwell. Ideally keep 1 metre (3 feet) away.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes if your hands are not clean.
  • Use bacterial wipes to clean your work surfaces including phones, keyboards, computer mouse, etc.

Self-isolation: How to do it

The current advice for self-isolating is:

  1. Avoid work, schools, public areas and do not use public transport or taxis until safe to do so.
  2. At home, stay in a well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that can be opened.
  3. Ideally use a separate bathroom to those not infected. If this is not possible, consider a bathroom rota where the isolated person washes and bathes last.  If well enough, the infected person should clean the bathroom facilities after use.
  4. Use separate towels from other non-infected members of the household.
Undertaking research: Some considerations

MRS guidance to its members on the grounds of health and safety and public acceptability is that face-to-face research (including mystery shopping) should not be carried out in the current environment.

If you decide you wish to undertake face-to-face research the following steps are recommended to avoid potential infection to staff, participants and contractors.

Research staff
  1. If research staff begin to feel unwell and/or have visited a high-risk country within the last 14 days, or been in contact with anyone who has visited a high-risk area, ask them to self-isolate and to work from home (if the staff are fit to do so and they role enables home working). This includes all interviewers, contractors, freelancers, recruiters and temporary workers.
  2. Provide guidance to staff on what they must do to self-isolate.
  3. Provide guidance to staff on what actions will be undertaken should offices become infected.
Participant recruitment
  1. When approaching individuals to participate in face to face research interviewers/recruiters/researchers should:
  • Avoid people who look visibly unwell
  • Stand at least 1 metre (3 feet) away from the potential participant
  • Carry tissues and bacterial wipes and throw away in a bin any which are used
  • Avoid touching their nose, mouth or eyes
  • Avoid any physical contact such as shaking an individual’s hand
  1. When undertaking the screener questions (via online, telephone or face to face) to establish whether individuals are suitable for face to face research practitioners should add some additional questions which determine:
  • Whether participants have visited or been in close contact with any individuals who have visited, or travelled through (via transfers, etc) any of the high-risk areas
  • Whether participants are experiencing any flu-like symptoms
  • Whether participants have been in close contact with individuals experiencing flu-like symptoms
  1. Participants who respond to the screener questions which indicates they have a high risk of infection should not be recruited for face to face research. These participants however could be recruited for either online or telephone studies if obtaining such information is unlikely to expose the interviewer/recruiter/researcher to potential infection.
  2. The Covid-19 screener questions, as they include the collection of special category health data, can only be collected with the informed consent of participants (see MRS Code of Conduct rule 31).
  3. When recording the responses to the screener questions no inferences should be made to the actual health of the participant. Researchers are not health professionals. The screener questions being recommended are to be used to reduce potential risk to others involved in research (interviewers, recruiters, researchers and other participants).
During face-to-face research
  1. Before face-to-face research commences the screener questions to establish Covid-19 risk should be repeated. Any individuals whose screener responses raises concerns should be asked to withdraw from the research.
  2. If participants are screened out prior to the commencement of the research, they should be refunded for any costs (such as travel) they may have incurred to participate in research.
  3. When setting up venues and/or facilities being used for research undertake the following:
  • Position participants and those involved in the research (e.g. researchers, moderators, recruiters, venue staff, hosts, interviewers) at least 1 metre apart from each other
  • Provide hand sanitizer
  • Provide adequate washroom facilities which have hot water and soap
  • When providing refreshments ensure that the servers are trained to handle refreshments in an appropriate manner
  • If providing goods as incentives, ensure they are wrapped/sealed before handing to participants
  • Wear surgical masks in countries where masks are the cultural norm (e.g. Asia)

In some markets taking the temperature of participants may be acceptable but for many countries this would be considered intrusive.  Furthermore, only those suitably qualified should undertake such health checks.

Data Protection and COVID-19

Even in these exceptional times, data controller and data processor must ensure the protection of the personal data of the data subjects. This is why both EDPB and ICO have published helpful guidance on the subject. Remember! Codeline is always open for support and guidance.

Support for researchers

The Market Research Benevolent Association (MRBA) exists to provide financial support and advice to individuals who work or have worked in any aspect of research and are based in the UK. Research organisations should provide details of the MRBA to all staff who are either infected and/or self-isolating and/or experiencing difficulties due to Covid-19 (not being able to work due to school closures for example). The MRBA may be able to help staff who may need some extra financial support.


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