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Omicron variant saps confidence that worst of pandemic is over

Just under half of Canadians believe COVID-19 will not worsen, while one-third are not optimistic about outlook, poll finds.
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Canadian optimism about the course of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a hit from the virus’ latest variant.
What a difference a month, and a COVID-19 variant, can make. In November, Research Co. and Glacier Media reported that the percentage of Canadians who assumed that the worst of the pandemic was “behind us” had reached 65%, the second-highest total since we started asking this question in March 2020.

In December, we are left with no choice but to become acquainted with the Omicron variant. Now, just under half of Canadians (47%) believe COVID-19 will not worsen, while one-third (33%) are not optimistic.

This month’s results are exactly the same as the ones we collected in March 2021, when doubts lingered about the federal government’s ability to procure enough vaccine doses for all Canadians. Our tracking data has echoed a public-opinion roller-coaster, with 47% saying in March that the pandemic will not be more challenging in the future, rising to 55% in May, then to an all-time high of 72% in July, only to fall to 48% in September, climb to 65% in November and drop to 48% this month.

The skepticism of those who have been in the world us the longest has been constant. His month, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, Canadians aged 55 and over are more likely to believe that COVID-19 will still bring unexpected challenges (38%) than their counterparts aged 18 to 34 (32%) and aged 35 to 54 (28%).

Across the country, three in four Canadians (76%) say they are wearing a mask every time they go out, up six points since November. We also see that more than four in five residents of the country (83%, up two points) are in favour of requiring all customers or visitors entering indoor premises to wear a mask or face covering while inside. On both of these questions, the results plummet among Canadians who voted for the People’s Party in the 2021 federal election – only half of them (50%) always wear a mask and just a third (33%) endorse the indoor mask mandate.

While the emergence of the Omicron variant has prompted more Canadians to mask up when they leave their homes, it has not led to immediate problems for Ottawa. This month, more than three in five Canadians (63%, up one point) remain content with the way the federal government has managed the pandemic. Satisfaction continues to be highest in Quebec (70%, unchanged), followed by Ontario (64%, unchanged), British Columbia (also 64%, up six points), Atlantic Canada (also 64%, down four points), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (50%, down four points) and Alberta (49%, up six points).

The views are similar when Canadians assess the performance of municipal governments (64%, up one point) and provincial governments (62%, up three points). Two jurisdictions can count on the support of more than two-thirds of residents when it comes to pandemic management – Quebec (72%, down four points) and British Columbia (68%, up six points). There is no change in Ontario (56%) and a marked improvement for Alberta (42%, up 13 points).

While Canadians appear to be more dejected on the issue of the end of the pandemic, the sentiment has not been accompanied by calls to return to life as it was in 2019. The proportion of the country’s residents who believe requiring proof-of-vaccination certificates is a “good idea” remains high, when we discuss travelling internationally (73%, down one point), to another province (71%, up one point) and within the same province (64%, down one point).

We also do not observe much movement on the use of a vaccine passport for other activities, such as working at an office (68%, up one point), going to live concerts, live sporting events and gyms or fitness facilities (71%, up one point for each) and attending the cinema or theater (72% up three points).

Our coping strategies also remain mostly stable since November. One in four Canadians (24%) claim to be overeating more often than before the pandemic, while 13% are drinking more alcohol and 17% are losing their temper at a higher rate than in 2019. These numbers are consistent with what we have found throughout 2021 once most Canadians were able to have at least one shot of the vaccine.

As we head to a new calendar year, 85% of Canadians continue to believe that COVID-19 is a real threat. The behaviour of most of the country’s residents, whether related to wearing masks outside or storming the fridge indoors, remains exemplary. Our criticism toward government officials has not increased dramatically. The data, at this point, does not support the existence of a “fatigue syndrome” that would compel Canadians to abandon their careful ways and behave in a more dangerous fashion.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from December 8 to December 10, 2021, 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.



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