The No 10 Christmas party debacle threatens to undermine efforts to control the Covid pandemic at a time when the Omicron variant is making people fear a major wave of disease.
A so-called Cummings effect last year led to negative and lasting consequences on public trust, according to researchers.
The country faces further plan B restrictions to combat the virus, as well as the risk of deeper distrust in ministers, if footage of Johnson's aides joking about a party and another apparent violation of Covid guidelines are taken into account.
There is concern over Omicron. Stephen Reicher is a professor of psychology at the University of St Andrews and a member of the Sage subgroup on behavioural science. We need a communal response to keep ourselves safe, and we need to trust the government.
We need a government that can guide us, one that we think of as dishonest, and one that we can trust, in the middle of a national crisis, where we need to react quickly and know how to react.
Reicher warned that the impact of a loss of trust may go far beyond conflicting advice about Christmas parties, and could encompass areas such as the vaccination and booster programmes, which are already hampered by low trust in some communities.
Dr Daisy Fancourt wrote a paper about the effects of politics, trust, and behaviours on public trust.
The decline in public adherence to Covid guidelines worsened in England in the three weeks after news of the drive to Barnard Castle, but not in Scotland or Wales, according to Fancourt.
It is important for the public to remember that the vast majority of people are following the rules, and that reporting on No 10 can damage public compliance.
Reicher points out that there is no simple equation between trust and adherence. Some of the people who were angry with Cummings were more strict in their adherence to Covid rules because they wanted to show how different they were from government officials.
Those who already wanted to break the rules felt more confident. It gave them an excuse to break the rules. He said that it doesn't change people's minds, but it gives them the power to act on their beliefs.
The director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the Christmas party reports were a betrayal of trust. It is not good for a public that is tired and ready to see the end of the epidemic. A lot of people have been there for a long time and want to get through it.
It is a betrayal of trust when you have been doing what feels like the right thing for two years and then you see this.
That is important. The guidance of the chief medical officer should not be implicated.