Boris Johnson's father is undermining public compliance with lockdown measures by visiting Greece during lockdown, an independent scientific advisory group has warned.
Experts on Independent Sage said high-profile figures close to the government like Dominic Cummings and Stanley Johnson were creating an impression that there was "one rule for them and one rule for us" – and that this reduced public compliance and risked a second wave.
Stanley Johnson, a former Tory MEP, was criticised this week for breaching Foreign Office advice and visiting his villa in Northern Greece. The prime minister has declined to denounce his actions, stating: "I am not going to get into details of family conversations."
Professor Stephen Reicher, a leading expert in crowd psychology at the University of St Andrews who sits on the committee told a presentation on Friday that the trip would make it harder to rebuild trust.
"Even in the Johnson family I think we can allow that the prime minister is not his father's keeper. I'm not sure he can control his behaviours," he said.
"Nonetheless, the issue of trust is particularly important, and in fact the issue shows that in some ways trust is more important to compliance at this stage than under lockdown. The figures show that erosion of trust undermines people's willingness to use the test-trace-isolate and support system and in particular to give information about themselves to authorities.
"One of the best ways of undermining trust is the notion that there's one rule for them and one rule for us. It divides us from the authorities and there's no doubt that this affects that perception in exactly the same way that the Cummings affair did, and at the very best it's not helpful. You need to rebuild trust and in such a volatile situation I think everybody's got a responsibility to make sure they don't undermine trust."
The Independent Sage group was set up by leading experts after concerns about political interference in the government's own Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies). It is chaired by Sir David Anthony King, a former Chief Scientific Advisor, and draws on experts across epidemiology, public health, computational modelling, and the social sciences.
Professor Deenan Pillay, an expert in virology from University College London who also sits on the committee said: "I pity the Greek island, to be honest. Greece has done incredibly well at controlling the epidemic ... There remains the quarantine for UK visitors to Greece because of the higher infection rate. My understanding is that Stanley Johnson is going to make sure his property is Covid-free ... I think we have to be respectful of countries that have made huge efforts."
Other members of the committee also urged caution ahead of the government's reopening of pubs on Saturday, warning that there were deficiencies in data that made it harder to track the pandemic and the the test and trace system was still not functioning as it should.
Professor Reicher added: "Whether we have a second wave or increase in infections is critically dependent on behaviour and on compliance and I really don't think we're doing enough to address those questions.
"There are three key factors if you want people to comply: the first is how we can build trust and a sense of equity, so that everybody does feel as a community involved in what's going on.
"There are increasing sections of the population that feel there is an inequity and are beginning to feel alienated from the government and its measures, not least young people - because while young people might not be affected by the virus, young people are most likely to be affected by what comes next, by the recession. And if young people begin to feel that there is no future they are much less likely to take measures to look after their health and our public health.
"The second issue is information: one of the things that has come through today is the number of areas where there isn't information ... the fact that the websites don't even tell you to get tested and most people don't know what the symptoms are, so we need a massive campaign of public information, something that's on every bus stop ,every time you open your social media - we really need that information because people don't have it.
"The third thing is the support so people can do the right thing – it's no good telling people to do things if it's impractical of impossible to do it."
Stanley Johnson, who rents the Greek property out to holidaymakers, has said his trip was "essential business" to ensure it could be made Covid-proof before travel restarted.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies