Published March 26, 2020
Canadians are largely heeding advice from government and public health officials to flatten the curve, but tensions are running high as the number of confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 rises
Last Friday, Vox Pop Labs launched the initial wave of its rolling study on public reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. New waves will be fielded every 72 hours in an effort to continuously monitor public reactions to new information in the hopes of informing and evaluating measures being put into place in response to the virus. This on-going research is a collaboration between Vox Pop Labs, MASS LBP, and public health researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. New data will be posted on voxpoplabs.com as it is made available.
- Nine out of every 10 Canadians are washing their hands more frequently with soap and water, staying away from crowded places, and avoiding handshakes
- Roughly 8 out of every 10 Canadians are practicing social distancing by avoiding non-essential in-person contact, keeping their distance from others wherever possible, and avoiding travel outside Canada
- Almost 1 in 5 Canadians are still unsure when or how to seek testing for COVID-19
- Three-quarters of Canadians express heightened concern about the economy and nearly half of all Canadians are more concerned about being able to pay their bills than they were a month ago
- Two-thirds of Canadians have experienced some degree of mental distress since the start of the pandemic and report elevated levels of anxiety, fear and stress
- More than half of Canadians are broadly confident in the federal government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Quebecers are two to three times more confident in their province’s response to COVID-19 than residents of other provinces
- Public health officials continue to command a significant trust premium over politicians and members of the media
Early findings indicate that concern about the risks posed by COVID-19 have risen dramatically within the last month. A majority of Canadians (56 percent) reported not being concerned at all about contracting COVID one month ago, but at present only 14 percent remain unconcerned. Despite perceptions that young people are less likely to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously, Canadians aged 18 to 34 are most likely to indicate that they are ‘extremely concerned’ about personally contracting the virus or about a friend, family member or someone in their local community being infected. While concern about personally contracting COVID-19 does not differ meaningfully between men and women, women are significantly more concerned about a friend or family member contracting the virus than are men.
Concerns about economic security have also risen drastically over the past month. Three-quarters of Canadians express heightened concern about the economy and nearly half of all Canadians more concerned about being able to pay their bills than they were a month ago. Concerns about contracting COVID-19 have also increased dramatically, with 70 percent of Canadians being more concerned about a friend or family member contracting COVID-19 than they were one month ago.
The proportion of Canadians who feel ‘extremely concerned’ about the global economy has increased fivefold as compared to a month ago—from 5 percent to 25 percent. Forty percent of Canadians reported being not at all concerned about the Canadian economy one month ago; now all but four percent express at least some concern. Sixty-three percent of Canadians were entirely confident about their ability to pay their bills last month whereas presently that figure stands at 36 percent. And while 74 percent of Canadians had no concerns about their job security a month ago, only 46 percent feel the same way now.
Elevated concern is particularly notable when it comes to the availability of food and supplies. Just one month ago, three out of every four Canadians had no concerns at all about access to food and supplies—now only one in four remain entirely unconcerned. A similar trend is evident in terms of public confidence in the ability of the health care system to provide adequate care to Canadians. The proportion of Canadians who say that they are somewhat, very or extremely concerned about the capacity of the country’s health care system has risen from 29 percent to 75 percent within the past month.
Canadians are, in large part, abiding by the advice from government and public health officials in relation to controlling the spread of COVID-19. Roughly 9 out of every 10 Canadians reports washing their hands more frequently with soap and water, staying away from crowded places, and avoiding handshakes. Eighty-four percent of Canadians are practicing social distancing by avoiding all non-essential in-person contact outside their home and keeping a distance of at least two arms lengths from others wherever possible. Roughly 8 of 10 Canadians indicated that they were avoid travel outside Canada, although this study was fielded just prior to the border closures. Almost half of Canadians reported not going into work or working from home more than usual although, again, this study was conducted just prior to orders in several provinces for non-essential businesses to close. In terms of additional sanitary measures, 71 percent of Canadians are consciously trying to avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands and 62 percent are cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects more often. Few Canadians are wearing disposable gloves or masks, which is all but discouraged by the Public Health Agency of Canada at this time.
While a majority of both men and women are practising the recommended measures for containing COVID-19, women generally take more precautions than men. Women are significantly more likely, for example, to avoid non-essential contact outside the household, to avoid travel outside Canada, and to avoid contact with people more likely to have come in contract with COVID-19, such as those who have travelled recently. Women are also more likely to take sanitary measures to prevent the spread of infection, such as avoiding facial touching, coughing or sneezing into a tissue or the bend of their arms, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces more often.
Canadians by and large feel well-informed about COVID-19, particularly its symptoms. Only twenty-eight percentage of Canadians feel insufficiently informed about how to access testing and treatment for the virus.
A majority of Canadians are relying on the news media to obtain news and information on the COVID-19 pandemic, with broadcast and online news being the most frequently consulted sources. Eighty-five percent of Canadians indicated that they are getting their news about COVID-19 primarily from Canadian news sources.
However, Canadians are less trustful of media a source of information about COVID-19 than they are of government. Public health officials are the source of information about the virus that Canadians trust most.
Federal government intervention
Despite widespread concern about the immediate and longer term economic implications, Canadians are broadly supportive of the measures that have been taken by federal and provincial governments to address the spread of COVID-19. Forty-five percent of Canadians believe that the actions taken by the federal government are appropriate given the circumstances, while 47 percent believe that the federal response has been a slight or significant underreaction.
Sixty-three percent of Canadians agree that the federal government is doing enough to protect Canadians from the health risk posed by COVID-19, with Quebecers being significantly less likely than those in the rest of Canada to strongly agree, and significantly more likely to somewhat disagree.
Public trust in the information provided by the federal government remains high, with 46 percent of Canadians indicating that they have moderate trust in the federal government as a source of factual and objective information about COVID-19 and 32 percent indicating that they have a great deal of trust. There are, however, significant differences within the population on this measure in terms of self-reported ideological placement. Those who are ideologically more right-wing are significantly less likely to have a great deal of trust in the federal government, while those who are more left-wing are significantly more likely.
Provincial government intervention
Provincial governments in Atlantic Canada and especially in Quebec have fared much better than their counterparts in central and western Canada in terms of public perception of their efforts to combat the rise of COVID-19.
Eighty-eight percent of Quebecers think that the government of Premier François Legault has acted appropriately given the circumstances and 94 percent agree that the Quebec government is doing enough to protect them from the health risks associated with COVID-19.
Ontario, British Columbia as well as the prairie provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have significantly lower approval ratings than Quebec in terms of their respective responses to the crisis. However, in each case a majority of the population agrees—at least somewhat—that their provincial governments are doing enough to address the health crisis presented by COVID-19.
Trust in the information provided by provincial governments also differs significantly between provinces. Quebec again stands apart from the rest of Canada, with 79 percent of Quebecers indicating a great deal of trust in their provincial government when it comes to factual and objective information about COVID-19. The Atlantic provinces are also significantly more likely to exhibit high trust in their provincial governments, while British Columbia, Ontario and the Prairies lag behind.
The COVID-19 public health emergency has also had an impact on Canadians’ mental health. Nearly thirty percent of Canadians noted a recent decline in their mental health. In particular, sixty-five percent of Canadians reported an increase in feelings of anxiety, 57 percent said they were more fearful, and 68 percent indicated higher levels of stress. Forty-six percent of Canadians feel less optimistic as of late, and 39 percent reported a decline in happiness.
Results are derived from a survey fielded to randomly selected respondents from Vox Pop Labs’ online panel between 20 March and 23 March 2020 (n = 2,439). Data were weighted by age, gender, education, household income, region, and partisanship in order to approximate a representative sample of the Canadian population. A second wave of the study is already in the field and Vox Pop Labs will continue fielding new waves every 72 hours in order to track changes in views across time related to COVID-19 and its associated impacts.