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Poll: Omicron moving so fast that one in 10 Canadians knows someone infected in past 10 days


‘This strain is in the houses, on our streets and among many who are known personally. This is a big change’

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In a weekend survey about our attitudes toward Omicron, Canadians are reporting a vastly different outlook toward the variant than they did in the same poll just two weeks ago.

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Maru Public Opinion found that 56 per cent of Canadians are now concerned with contracting Omicron variant, up 10 percentage points, and 55 per cent are concerned that the variant is being underestimated, an upward swing of six percentage points, believing it to be both highly contagious and more deadly.

Those living in Quebec (61 per cent, a rise of 6 percentage points) topped the list of respondents believing that Omicron was being underestimated, followed by Ontarians (58 per cent, up 7). Manitoba/Saskatchewan registered the steepest growth (56 per cent, up 21).

Those living in British Columbia were the most concerned about contracting Omicron (60 per cent, up 19), followed by Ontarians (57 per cent; up 20) and those in Manitoba/Saskatchewan (56 per cent, up 18).

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Maru did not ask the participants whether they were vaccinated, but learned that one in 10 — or an estimated 3.65 million people — know of a family member or friend who had contracted Omicron in the past 10 days.

“What is most striking,” said Maru Executive Vice-President John Wright, “is how many people know of someone in their immediate family or circle of friends who have contracted this virus in the last 10 days. This is no longer abstract or far fetched — the Delta version seemed to infect people that we would hear about through the grapevine or community, whereas this strain is in the houses, on our streets and among many who are known personally. This is a big change.”

Responding to the identical questions that were posed in Maru’s Dec. 6 survey, Canadians in the current poll indicated they are being more vigilant about their safety and now see Omicron “as an insidious, personal threat to their wellbeing whereas before it was among ‘others’,” Wright said.

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Fifty-nine per cent of poll respondents are staying home more, compared previously with 38 per cent — a 21 percentage point gain. Even in the definitive shopping month of December, most people are not venturing out as much for gifts or even groceries.

This was strongly reflected in Atlantic Canada, where 69 per cent said they were staying in, up 19 percentage points, followed by Ontario (64 per cent, up 23) and Quebec (60 per cent, up 14).

The range was widest between the 28-percentage-point rise in Manitoba/Saskatchewan (51 per cent), compared with Alberta’s 12 percentage point rise (43 per cent).

“People have been heeding the information that this virus is more contagious than the Delta and are battening down the hatches,” Wright said in an email. “A majority of the public is being vigilant and taking this very seriously.”

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But, he adds, because “some weeks ago, health authorities said they needed a few weeks to discern the full impact of the variant on society, the public deserves some pronouncement about its true nature and impact. The World Health Organization and government health care systems around the world need to deliver a verdict soon or skepticism may rise the next time a new strain is born.”

Of those who were curtailing how they interact within their community, 54 per cent said they had made a change (up 14 percentage points). The biggest change was in Atlantic Canada at 48 per cent (up 20). Next were Alberta (61 per cent, up 12) and Quebec (57 per cent, up 15).

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In tandem with the steep climb in concern is respondents’ decreasing belief that the variant can be held at bay by vaccines or their own immunity (55 per cent, down 7). Albertans were most likely to hold this view (61 per cent, down 3) and Manitoba/Saskatchewan (60 per cent, also down 3). In Quebec and Atlantic Canada, however, just a bare majority believe it (52 per cent), down 15 and 2 percentage points respectively.

“If anything, we are witnessing the democratization of the virus throughout our society,” Wright said. “Whether symptomatic or not, it appears to be sparing no one, whereas previous versions appear to have been more selective. Also, previous outbreaks seemed to be contained to specific places or groups, but this is a wildfire with the potential to touch or impact almost everyone everywhere.”

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This weekend’s survey returned a small but telling three-percentage-point gain in those Canadians changing travel plans. Omicron has meant 31 per cent of respondents have cancelled or postponed travel plans, whether personal or business, up from 28 per cent in December.

Ontarians were the most likely to be changing trip plans (38 per cent, up 11 percentage points), followed by those in B.C. (34 per cent, up 6) and Atlantic Canada (31 per cent, up 16). Quebec respondents were ahead of the rest of the country on this, saying in the survey of Dec. 6 they had already changed plans, which resulted in a 19 percentage point drop to 23 per cent in this survey from 42 per cent.

“Most of the cutback on travel is not necessarily the bigger vacation plans,” Wright said, “but are the more localized visiting for the holidays.”

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We are witnessing the democratization of the virus throughout our society,

Maru Public Opinion

As for work, 41 per cent said Omicron is forcing new precautions, which is up 14 percentage points from Dec. 6. This change is found mostly in Ontario (49 per cent, up 19), Atlantic Canada (42 per cent, up 15) and Quebec (41 per cent, up 14).

“This means that approximately 14 million adult Canadians who are working have been affected by the virus spread,” Wright said, “which is up from nine million adult Canadians 10 days or so ago.”

So how do Canadians want governments to deal with this new threat to their health? Of a choice of actions provided, 43 per cent said they would like capacity reductions to 50 per cent for the next two weeks. A full circuit-breaker lockdown for two weeks for people, with only essential businesses operational, was the choice of 28 per cent of respondents, while 26 per cent said they thought restrictions should be fairly loose so that people could do as they feel best in the circumstances.

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This weekend, 60 per cent of poll respondents said they thought their provincial government was responding “effectively” to Omicron (this question was not part of the Dec. 6 survey). Quebecers topped the list at 71 per cent, followed by B.C. (68), Atlantic Canada (65) and Ontario (56). But those living in Manitoba/Saskatchewan (49) and Alberta (41) were less pleased with their province’s approach.

As for the federal level, 57 per cent said the Liberal government is responding effectively to Omicron. Quebec again topped the list, at 70 per cent, with B.C. (60), Atlantic Canada (59) and Ontario (54) following. Ontario’s Omicron count rose by 395 cases on Tuesday, bring the provincial lab-confirmed total to 4,600. Least pleased with Ottawa were those in Manitoba/Saskatchewan (45) and Alberta (40).

Maru Public Opinion conducted the survey of 1,512 Canadian adults from Dec. 17 to 19; it has an estimated margin of error of +/-2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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