Behavioural scientists advising the government have warned that without a clear communication campaign, the rollout of vaccines may lead people to flout Covid restrictions before they are lifted.

The researchers fear adherence to the guidelines could fall among vaccinated groups, but also among those who believe there is no longer a major risk to older and more vulnerable people, as the vaccination programme proceeds.

The warning appears in a document released on Friday from the behavioural science subgroup of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which stresses that the introduction of immunity certificates could complicate messaging and exacerbate community tensions as the country emerges from lockdown.

In the paper, dated 10 February, the scientists describe how perceptions of the threat from Covid may differ as vaccination targets are reached, with some people no longer feeling they should have restrictions imposed on them. “Grievances could be amplified if those vaccinated are provided with some sort of certification, enabling them to escape local restrictions,” they note.

The document states the importance of managing expectations for the year ahead. An ONS Opinion and Lifestyle survey found that 17% of adults expected life to return to normal in six months or less, a scenario described as “optimistic” given the latest modelling, even without the emergence of new variants that may call for “sudden, strict reimposition of measures”.

“Setting realistic expectations as to the likely duration of, pattern of and reason for continuing or suddenly imposed restrictions may help people to plan, improve their understanding of the efficacy of interventions and improve the perceived legitimacy of interventions,” the document adds.

Another Sage document released on Friday describes the latest projections for the epidemic. Written by outbreak modellers advising Sage, the report anticipates hospital admissions in England falling below 500 per day, and deaths below 200 per day, by mid-March, figures last seen in October. On Friday, the UK recorded a further 345 Covid deaths within 28 days of a positive test, 300 of which were in England.

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