Public’s COVID-19 pandemic concerns, anxiety declining in Canada

Last month, Research Co. and Glacier Media found that a majority of Canadians (56 per cent) were “very anxious” or “moderately anxious” about COVID-19 restrictions and mandates being lifted in their community. We also identified some hesitation about a return to normal activities, such as dining out or visiting friends or relatives.

Four weeks later, the public mood is different. In our latest survey, the level of unease about COVID-19 from Canadians has dropped 11 points to 45 per cent. Anxiety is highest in Atlantic Canada (51 per cent) and no longer encompasses a majority of residents in other regions: 47 per cent in Ontario, 45 per cent in both British Columbia and Quebec, 43 per cent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and 41 per cent in Alberta.

As anxiety falls, our behaviour evolves. There is a marked reduction in the proportion of Canadians who plan to do two things in the next couple of weeks: wear a mask or face covering when entering an indoor premise (54 per cent, down six points) and wear a mask or face covering when leaving their home (35 per cent, down 10 points).

Our social life is also slowly returning. Two-thirds of Canadians (66 per cent, up seven points) plan to visit relatives or friends in person over the next fortnight, and majorities are planning to go out for dinner at a sit-down restaurant (52 per cent, up eight points) or go out for lunch at a sit-down restaurant (51 per cent, also up eight points).

There is also an increase in the proportion of Canadians who would go to a live sporting event (14 per cent, up three points), a live concert (17 per cent, up six points) and the theatre or cinema (27 per cent, up five points). We are also more willing to travel by car for an overnight stay (30 per cent, up eight point) or by airplane (16 per cent, up three points) than we were last month.

These numbers might suggest that the pandemic is truly behind us, but the experience of Canadians puts that assertion into question. Almost one in four (23 per cent) acknowledge that they or someone else in their household, became infected with COVID-19 after restrictions and mandates were lifted in their community.

Our recent experience plays a role in how we perceive the status quo. Practically half of Canadians (49 per cent) believe that restrictions and mandates were lifted at the right time, while more than two in five (44 per cent) think they were lifted too early.

Regionally, Atlantic Canada leads in cautiousness, with 52 per cent of the region’s residents saying the restrictions and mandates were abandoned too soon. The proportions are lower, but still significant, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (48 per cent), Quebec and Alberta (each at 43 per cent), Ontario (41 per cent) and British Columbia (40 per cent).

Canadians who say COVID-19 entered their household after the end of restrictions and mandates are more likely to think that the decision was taken too early (52 per cent) than to say it was correct (42 per cent).

Looking into the future, Canadians would not be terribly upset if their routines are again affected by restrictions and mandates. More than two-thirds (68 per cent) would be satisfied if they had to wear a mask or face covering when entering an indoor premise, and majorities feel the same way about reducing capacity at venues (such as cinemas, theatres, concert halls and sports arenas) (64 per cent) and requiring proof of vaccination to go to restaurants or public events (61 per cent).

These numbers suggest that a return of the guidelines we have left behind would not snowball into a revolution in the name of freedom. In addition, three in five Canadians (60 per cent) expect to be vaccinated again against COVID-19 at least once in the next six months, a proportion that rises to 70 per cent among those aged 55 and over.

Finally, we see a significant proportion of Canadians ready to “live with the virus.” We found that 59 per cent of Canadians believe it’s only a matter of time before everyone catches COVID-19, a proportion that rises to 73 per cent among those who recently encountered an infection personally or in their household. More than half of Canadians (52 per cent) claim that, as long as people are vaccinated, COVID-19 is a minor nuisance.

Just before the first warm long weekend of 2022, Canadians are ready to do more things. Still, pronouncements by politicians, aspiring leaders and self-proclaimed spokespeople for movements have painted the picture of a Canada where everyone is on one side on COVID-19. Our survey shows that there are deep divisions about what provincial governments have decided, accompanied by a cautious optimism about what lies ahead. Anyone who pretends there is unanimity in either praising premiers and health authorities or scolding them intensely is misguided.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 14 to May 16, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.