A new poll suggests Canadians are growing increasingly worried about the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and potential lockdowns to limit its spread — but experts say the country has the ability to prevent such stringent measures.
The Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found 71 per cent of those surveyed are worried about the fourth wave, up two points from July. Even more Canadians are worried about new variants of the virus threatening a return to normal, growing by seven points over two months to 88 per cent.
Those rising fears have also coincided with dwindling acceptance of lockdowns to stem the fourth wave. While 63 per cent of those surveyed said they would support a lockdown, that’s six points down from 69 per cent in July.
“People are obviously quite afraid of what this so-called Delta wave is potentially going to bring to the country,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.
“What they fear (is that) we kind of get back on track and then all of a sudden we get back into the situation that we were previously in.”
But experts say Canada already has the solutions necessary to prevent a harsh lockdown like those seen last year. Besides vaccinations, they say widespread mask-wearing and improvements to indoor ventilation can ensure Canadians can keep a semblance of normal.
“We need to really use all the tools at our disposal,” said Michael Brauer, a professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia.
“My sense for this winter is that we can manage our situation as best as we can with vaccination, but we’re probably going to get into a situation where we’re going to need to use those other approaches.”
Canada is now seeing an average of nearly 4,000 cases per day, a majority of which have proven to be among unvaccinated people or those with only one dose.
More than 75 per cent of eligible Canadians aged 12 and over are now fully vaccinated. But the more transmissible Delta variant means vaccination rates need to be even higher than once thought necessary.
“We’re kind of right on the edge of the point where we think we can perhaps control transmission or reduce it to a manageable level just through vaccination,” said Brauer. “If we go up a little more, we may be in a manageable place.”
Brauer added that vaccinated people can rest assured, “that not only is your probability of becoming infected much lower, but the severity of an infection is also much, much lower.”
Learn to live with the virus?
The Ipsos poll also found that a growing number of Canadians think we should simply learn to live with active COVID-19 cases as a fact of life — particularly as vaccinations lower the risk of severe infection. Seventy per cent of those surveyed said they felt this way, up three points from July.
Just over half of respondents went a step further, saying the spread of less serious cases would be a welcome trade-off for returning to a semblance of normal.
Bricker says the data reflects the fact that Canadians are learning more about the virus and adjusting accordingly, particularly to the post-vaccine reality.
“What we’re seeing is, I would say, a more nuanced public opinion environment around this issue than what we were seeing, say, a year ago,” he said.
While Brauer and other experts say we may very well see a future where we are living with a continued spread of the virus, they also warn that the possibility of more mutations and variants complicates the picture.
“The greatest threat to us all is the global pandemic, which we’re doing next to nothing about,” said Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist and professor at the University of Toronto.
The Delta variant itself evolved in India at a time when cases were spreading like wildfire across the country while few people were vaccinated.
Bowman says poorer countries around the world are seeing outbreaks that could lead to even worse mutations — and the potential for international spread is great.
“The reason it’s coming from these countries — it’s nothing sinister,” he said, “it’s simply because they don’t have a lot of vaccines and the virus is festering.
“All of our focus is on Delta, and Canada is looking very much inward as opposed to outward. And that’s what has me most concerned.”
Just over half of those surveyed by Ipsos said they think the fourth wave will be worse than what Canada has seen before. Yet about a third said those who are concerned about the next few months are overreacting.
The poll also found younger Canadians are more likely to agree that the country should learn to live with the virus in order to avoid restrictions (59 per cent), while those aged 55 and over were more supportive of lockdowns (69 per cent) and are worried about the fourth wave (81 per cent).
Brauer says while COVID-19 may not disappear “in our lifetime,” he believes Canada has the potential to move toward living with the virus — so long as officials and the general population use a variety of measures while becoming more proactive.
“We are on that road back to normal,” he said. “But it’s going to be a little bit of a bumpy road and it’s going to take a little bit longer.
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between Sept. 3rd and 6th, 2021, on behalf of Global News. A sample of n = 1,500 was interviewed online, via the Ipsos I-Say panel and non-panel sources, and respondents earn a nominal incentive for their participation. Quotas and weighting were employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos polls which include non-probability sampling is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians 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. Ipsos abides by the disclosure standards established by the CRIC, found here: https://canadianresearchinsightscouncil.ca/standards/