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As coronavirus drags on, more Canadians ditch physical-distancing rules: Ipsos poll

Physical distancing becoming an urban challenge
To slow COVID-19, people are being asked to spread out at least two metres, but that can be difficult when it comes to sidewalks.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues, fewer Canadians are strictly following physical-distancing orders today than they were last month, a new Ipsos poll found.

The poll, conducted on behalf of Global News, found that nearly four in 10 say they are not rigorously adhering to physical distancing and self-isolation guidelines, which health officials say are vital to curbing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

This stat is up from April when 26 per cent said they were not following the public health recommendations to their full extent, suggesting people are becoming more emboldened when it comes to stay-at-home orders.

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“It is very difficult for humans to stay socially isolated. It makes us feel bored, stressed, anxious, worried,” said Nafissa Ismail, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa, who was not involved in the poll.

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“But we must remember that we are being told to self-isolate and maintain physical distancing for our own safety and also for the safety of those around us.”

Some provinces are better at following physical-distancing orders than others, the Ipsos poll found. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, 48 per cent said they are not adhering to strict measures. In Ontario, 32 per cent of residents said the same.

When it comes to how Canadians are breaking the health recommendations, five per cent said they are going to work and socializing as normal, and six per cent said they are reducing contact with others but still going out and socializing in person with friends and family.

Celebrating from home amid the pandemic
Celebrating from home amid the pandemic

Most commonly, 28 per cent said they are limiting personal contact but still going out more than once a week to get groceries and having contact with a few people outside their home.

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While provincial governments are loosening up on closure measures in phases, the Ipsos data points out that some Canadians began relaxing on physical-distancing orders before being advised to do so by public health authorities.

It’s important to note, however, that many people may have adopted behaviours, like wearing masks and practising physical distancing while outdoors, that may make them more comfortable to leave the home, Ipsos said.

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The reasons why people ignore public health measures vary, but generally speaking, the longer people are asked to do something difficult, the harder it is to comply, said Dr. Martin Antony, a professor of psychology at Ryerson University.

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Antony, the co-author of the Anti-Anxiety Workbook, also said that people may think they are not at risk of contracting COVID-19 as time goes on.

“People may have difficulty understanding that although COVID-19 may pose only a small ‘personal’ risk to any one individual at a given point in time, the collective public health risk is high,” he explained.

“If a few people don’t follow public health guidelines, the risk is probably low. If nobody follows public health guidelines, then we’re all in trouble.”

There could also be a level of confusion around the latest public health orders, as rules are changing across the country, Antony said. As more businesses slowly reopen, people may think it’s OK for them to return to some previous behaviours.

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Ismail added that we are at a stage in this pandemic where our mental health may be suffering. People miss their loved ones and may not want to stay indoors anymore.

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“With the restrictions in place, we need to adapt to this evolving situation and take care of our mental health safely,” she said.

She recommends people take care of their well-being by maintaining virtual contact with family and friends, engaging in physical activity, sleeping six to eight hours per night, limiting alcohol consumption and spending time with those in their household.

“It is a difficult situation, and many may feel that they do not want to self-isolate anymore,” she said.

“But ending self-isolation can also have consequences on our physical health and the health of our loved ones.”

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between May 8 and 11, 2020, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including but not limited to coverage error and measurement error.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Laura.hensley@globalnews.ca