Nearly one-third of Canadians plan holiday gatherings despite pandemic restrictions: poll

Despite a second wave of COVID-19 infections that threatens to climb to 20,000 daily cases across Canada, a new poll found that about one-third of Canadians plan to visit friends and family for the holidays anyway.

In the new survey, taken late last month by Angus Reid in partnership with research firm Cardus, 30 per cent of the nearly 5,000 respondents said they will be visiting loved ones locally and 10 per cent said they planned to leave their community or province to do so.

Close to three-quarters of respondents said they believed “the worst is yet to come” and more than 80 per cent said they were concerned about friends and family becoming sick. Those who weren’t worried were twice as likely to be in the group planning to visit loved ones and three times more likely to leave the province for it, researchers said.

For several weeks now, provincial officials across the country have urged Canadians to reconsider get-together plans for the holiday season as infections surged nationally from a seven-day average of about 3,000 cases on Nov. 1 to more than 6,000 on Dec. 2.

In an emotional plea last week, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister called himself “the guy who’s stealing Christmas to keep you safe.” In his province, which has logged more than 400 deaths from COVID-19 so far, 20 per cent of those polled said they’d be visiting friends and family. In Quebec earlier this month, Premier Francois Legault reversed plans to allow controlled gatherings for the holidays. In that province, which has recorded more than 7,200 deaths from the coronavirus, some 35 per cent planned to see loved ones. It’s a similar picture in Alberta, a province with about half the population of Quebec but a higher seven-day average for COVID-19 infections. Thirty-five per cent of respondents from Alberta said they plan to visit friends and family, and 12 per cent planned to leave their communities or the province for gatherings.

RCMP detachments across the country continue to report hundreds of fines related to pandemic restrictions, but health officials this fall have urged that more needs to be done. requested comment from the RCMP but did not hear back at time of writing.

Last month, CTV News’ infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said it was time to stop “asking nicely.”

“At this point in time, I think we need to get our bylaw officers out,” he said in mid-November. Since then, Canada has added close to 140,000 new cases of COVID-19.

The new poll puts numbers to what infectious disease specialist Anna Banerji called “a lot of denial” among Canadians.

“I don’t think people understand the significance of their actions,” she told over the phone on Tuesday, adding that with each person added to a household “bubble,” the group becomes an “open circuit.”

With Christmas Day just 17 days away, there’s little space to practice a “risk reduction” approach, said Banerji. That would require Canadians to self-isolate for two weeks at home with no contact and ensure anyone else they’re seeing at Christmas does the same. 

“But we’re running out of time. If they’re planning on doing it, you have to make sure that someone’s not out there socializing with other people to make it safe. That’s the only way you can,” she said.

National pandemic modelling released last month outlined a grim course for the COVID-19 pandemic, predicting 20,000 new cases daily by the end of the month if Canadians maintained their level of contacts. If contact rates increase this month, infections could exceed 60,000 a day, the Public Health Agency of Canada added. Those figures don’t account for late-December holiday gatherings, since it takes about two weeks for behaviours on any given day to be reflected in the data.

Banerji doesn’t doubt that celebrations indicated in the Angus Reid poll will lead to a surge in COVID-19 infections in January.

“If people do gather during the holidays, there probably will be pretty significant outcomes from this,” she said. 

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