SENIOR politicians and behavioural scientists – including a UK Government advisor – have warned that careless messaging about the lifting of lockdown by the UK Government could end up costing more lives.

Last Thursday, UK newspapers ran with stories that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would today announce the end of lockdown. Headlines included “Happy Monday” and “Hurray! Lockdown freedom beckons”, suggesting that all had been provided with similar briefings.

The BBC reported that the key “stay at home” message was to be dropped this week, a decision Nicola Sturgeon said would be “a catastrophic mistake”. It was in marked contrast to her insistence that there would be no significant easing of lockdown for at least three weeks.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab later insisted any lifting of restrictions would be “modest and incremental”, but leading scientific advisors told the Sunday National that a minority would have seen it as sign to break the current restrictions this weekend.

English resorts and parks were busy in yesterday’s sunshine, with police turning visitors away from Brighton and London police tweeting that they were ‘‘fighting a losing battle’’ with people sitting having pizza, beers and wine in public parks. On Friday, coastguard callouts soared with 16 incidents recorded north of the Border.

In Scotland, lockdown measures stay in place, though the government is considering allowing people out for exercise more than once a day. Some experts claimed that Boris Johnson’s divergence from four nations messaging would shake public trust and undermine clear Scottish messaging.

Professor Linda Bauld, behavioural scientist and chair of public health at Edinburgh University said: “People who are looking for an excuse to take back a bit more freedom will seize [reports about lockdown ending] with both hands. And that’s worrying because we may be in a situation where we start to see a rise in cases again.

“When you have an indicator that in the near future it would be possible [to meet up], there are groups of people who will do it in advance. That is a just natural human response to information. In Scotland, though, we are hearing a threat message. And that is the complete opposite. I think [the different messages coming from England and Scotland] increases distrust amongst the population. It’s not what they heard previously, which was ‘we are doing this together’.”

She claimed that historic political difference between the nationals meant the public was more finely tuned to suggestions of in-fighting. “So any signs that the four nations agreement is not genuine, or the leaders are not communicating well creates public cynicism,” she added.

“It undermines guidance full stop and reduces trust in government.

“If the public see there aren’t good lines of communication between Scotland and England, what the First Minister says could be undermined.”

Professor Susan Michie, director of University College London’s Centre for Behaviour Change and member of both Sage and an alternative scientific advisory group set up by Sir David King, agreed that last week’s messaging was risky.

“I understand that in situations in which many newspapers carry a story simultaneously, it is most likely that there was briefing from a source in or close to Government,” she added. “I think this sort of trailing of future announcements is very unhelpful as it prevents the new guidance being given as a package and with the explanation as to why the changes are happening, and their implications.

“The great majority of people either support the Government’s current guidance or think it doesn’t go far enough – for them, the headlines will probably make little difference. However, for the 10% who are not motivated to follow the guidance, these headlines will give a green light to breaking current rules.”

Martin McKee, professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that the Scottish Government had communicated with “commendable clarity” throughout the pandemic.

But he claimed that was being undermined by the “lack of clarity coming from England.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie MSP said: “Last week the UK claimed the unenviable position of having the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in Europe. Despite this, it’s been suggested that Boris Johnson plans to drastically roll back lifesaving lockdown measures to appease his backbenchers.

“The communications strategy employed by the UK Government this week has been dangerous. There can be no doubt that this strategy has put lives at risk.”

SNP MP Ian Blackford added: “The mixed messaging from Downing Street has been irresponsible. The First Minister has made clear that a for a four-nation approach to be meaningful, it must have the full involvement and consent of all UK nations.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “We have set out clear instructions to the British people as our approach and knowledge of the virus has developed, to delay the spread of the disease, reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at one time, and ultimately save lives. We have been transparent about our approach throughout this crisis.”