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COMMENTARY: Don’t get smug about the U.S. — coronavirus could come back to bite Canada, too

Face mask mandates spark protests across Canada
WATCH: (July 19) Depending on which province you live in, you may legally be required to wear a facemask, which health officials say help curb the spread of COVID-19. As Julia Foy reports, the mandates have sparked anti-mask protests across the country.

There are lots of smug Canadians out there shaking their heads in collective disbelief at all the COVID-19 ignorance raging south of the border.

Mocked and derided on social media as “COVIDiots” and “mask-holes,” the anti-face-mask, virus-denying, conspiracy-fueled American mob is a source of condescending Canadian amusement.

But if you think we’re immune from cockamamie COVID kookiness, think again.

Read more: Vancouver protesters rally against masks, though experts say they slow spread of COVID-19

Just last week, anti-maskers took to the streets for co-ordinated rallies in major Canadian cities.

Billing their movement as the “March to Unmask,” sign-waving protesters hit the bricks in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Ottawa and other communities.

And while their numbers were not huge, they still managed to attract national news coverage with a range of messages, including bizarre notions like wearing a face mask causes cancer.

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It was enough to elicit a somewhat incredulous response from Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s celebrated public health officer.

“Masks are safe to wear,” Henry said.

“They do not increase your risk of keeping viruses or bacteria in. They do not exacerbate asthma or other lung conditions.”

Though Henry has not issued a mandatory face-mask order in B.C., more and more localized mask regulations are being implemented in Canada.

Mandatory mask rules for indoor public places have been introduced in Ontario and Quebec. Major public transit systems have brought in mask rules. Some businesses are requiring them, too.

And despite those anti-mask protests, a large majority of Canadians appear comfortable with masking-up orders.

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A poll by Ipsos conducted for Global News found more three-quarters of Canadians — 79 per cent — would not object to a mandatory mask order in their community.

Despite that degree of acceptance, a recent poll by Angus Reid found a smaller number of Canadians wear masks voluntarily. Just 20 per cent said they wear a face mask every time they go outside, while 35 per cent said they wear a mask “most of the time.”

Nearly one-third of respondents — 32 per cent — said they “rarely” wear a mask, while 13 per cent said they “never” wear one.

Read more: Anti-mask movement ‘not based in reality,' health expert says after Winnipeg protest

 

And the findings come at the same time public fear of the COVID-19 virus is rising again after three months of easing concerns.

The Angus Reid survey found three-in-five Canadians — 59 per cent — said they are worried about catching COVID-19, a 13-point increase since June.

It all comes at a time when the spread of the virus appears to be growing again in parts of Canada.

That includes B.C., one of the country’s most successful jurisdictions when it comes to bending down the COVID curve.

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Canada’s western-most province reported 102 new cases on Monday as Henry warned for the potential of “explosive growth” in new COVID-19 cases if people don’t start following now-familiar recommendations: personal hygiene, social distancing and — yes — wearing face masks.

The bottom line: Canadians can smugly look down our noses at our American friends struggling south of the border, but a new surge in cases could easily take hold in Canada, too, bringing the potential for more masking-up orders and locking-down of a slowly recovering economy.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.