After two years of COVID, Canadians are reluctant to participate in ‘normal’ activities: survey

Mood of Canadians Part 4: Canadians are reluctant to take public transportation, attend weddings or funerals, fly, or attend concerts or sporting events

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As Canadians enter the third year of COVID-19, a significant proportion appear to fear a return to mass transit and other “normal” activities before the pandemic.

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A new Leger poll for Postmedia, conducted just as Omicron was beginning its rise and before cases began to skyrocket, sought to gauge people’s comfort levels for increased contact with other humans.

Overall, nearly half (46%) of those surveyed between December 10 and 13 were comfortable attending a house party with more than six people. But from there, the comfort level quickly plummeted, with respondents expressing much less enthusiasm for public transportation, attending large family and friend gatherings like weddings or funerals, taking the plane for vacations, to attend concerts or sporting events or to book a cruise.

In most cases, this is just normal human anxiety and a normal adjustment, psychologists say, although people are not always precise in their risk assessment or even in their prediction of how badly. they might be really uncomfortable. However, for people who are more anxious or more resistant to infections, the “re-entry” can be more difficult.

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A majority (56%) of Gen Z and Millennials, 18-34 year olds, said they were “already comfortable” with house parties of six or more people, compared to 38% people aged 55 and over, while Quebecers (57 percent) were more comfortable with house parties than residents of Ontario (41 percent), British Columbia (39 percent) and Manitoba / Saskatchewan (35 percent).

Atlantic Canadians (46%) were the most comfortable attending weddings or funerals, while Ontarians were least comfortable (28%). Residents of Ontario and Quebec were also the most reluctant to fly for vacation (only 23% of respondents from both provinces were “already comfortable” with flying, compared to 40% of Albertans).

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Only 38 percent of the general public were comfortable using public transportation; 26 percent said they “don’t know when I’ll be comfortable” using public transportation.

“In Ottawa, in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), even in Winnipeg, a lot of the investment and support goes into public transit – subways, GO trains and light rail,” said Andrew Enns, executive vice-president of Léger. “And I’m almost convinced they’re not based on 38 percent ridership.”

“And there are more factors than just convenience – all ‘homework’ goes into it,” Enns said. Will people move to the same degree?

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Given the public financial support, “at some point someone will have to look at this and say, ‘Why do we keep building? And what do we continue to support, and to what extent, if we don’t have the goodwill we had before the pandemic, and if that goodwill doesn’t appear to be returning anytime soon? “

People were less comfortable with the idea of ​​a cruise, which is not surprising given the thousands of people confined to cabins during previous COVID cruise ship outbreaks. Only 16% of the 1,532 adults surveyed said they were “already comfortable” aboard a ship. More than two-thirds (67%) of those 55 and over don’t know when they’ll be comfortable going on a cruise, compared to 35% of those aged 18 to 34 who say so.

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When the industry finally rises, cruise line operators may need to pivot, Enns said. “A lot of people who sail regularly are in that 55 and over age bracket. If this crowd they relied on so heavily, before the pandemic, still say, ‘I’m just not so sure,’ then you have to go elsewhere.

Those under 35 were more determined and aggressive in wanting to move on with their lives, compared to those 55 and over. Younger, healthier people are much less vulnerable to the serious consequences if they contract COVID, and they are also “really irritated” under the restrictions, lockdowns and social isolation, Enns said.

“They are at a different stage in their life where this social bond, this social support is really needed,” said Nafissa Ismail, associate professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa. People 55 and over “are on the cusp of the most vulnerable age group” for COVID, she said.

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An individual’s level of comfort does not just depend on their age, but on their personality and personal experience with COVID, Ismail said. “The whole experience was very traumatic for many.

“This will determine how ready we are to go back to the normal that we used to be,” she said. People who are naturally anxious may take longer to get there.

But people are also not good at predicting how they will feel in certain situations, said Steven Taylor, clinical psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia.

“We’re not very good at predicting what will make us happy, and the same is true of fear: Fearful people tend to overestimate their fears,” said Taylor, author of The Psychology of Pandemics.

“I expect that for a lot of those people who say, ‘Well, I’m going to avoid traveling on buses,’ they probably overestimate how anxious they are going to feel on public transport.”

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Anxiety levels fluctuate with levels of infection and perceived risks by people. With each new variant, anxiety levels rise, Taylor said.

But people have faced the unpredictability of it all throughout the pandemic. Omicron only adds another layer of uncertainty, said Taylor, who suspects the pandemic will come out with a whimper, not a bang. “I think it’s going to sink. Ultimately.”

Until then, humans remain flexible and adaptive, he said. “And people will start doing these things again, but the speed at which people return to so-called normalcy will differ depending on people’s tolerance for risk and anxiety levels.”

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Sara H. Byrd