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Re-opening amid COVID-19: too soon?

Staying healthy matters most

An empty city highway intersection represents the Covid-19 lockdown.

Trish Hennessy

As provinces across Canada ease into the re-opening phase of COVID-19, a lot of us are greeting that development with a healthy dose of trepidation.

A new report from Environics Research shows that three-quarters of Canadians are feeling very cautious, knowing the virus is still among us.

“They prioritize public health, and protecting themselves and others, above a return to normal; even if that means exacerbating the economic downturn.”

Staying healthy matters most.

Environics does more than monitor public opinion; it analyzes Canadians’ social values, including how they relate to this pandemic.

They talk about the “anxious consumers” (30% of Canadians). They’re not in a hurry to get back out there. They like predictability and routine. Social distancing and the increased use of technology have caused them to retreat.

Then there’s the “open-up enthusiasts”—the people chomping at the bit to return to the old ways. They tend to have a higher penchant for risk, a sense of duty and obligations that makes them want to return to work right now, they love large crowds, and they have huge confidence in businesses to do the right thing.

Open-up enthusiasts are in the minority—only 8% of Canadians.

I talked with Environics’ VP, Public Affairs, Derek Leebosh about the small group of people who are flouting public health advice or staging protests against stay-at-home orders. What’s motivating them?

It’s complicated.

First of all, Leebosh says in late March only 12% of Canadians were not practising physical distancing. One segment of these “resisters” tend to be younger, single with lower incomes, “people who already accept a lot of risk in their lives," Leebosh says.

Another group of resisters tend to have higher incomes, they’re better educated, they’re extroverts. “They’re motivated by a concern about how people perceive them; the need for status recognition,” Leebosh says. “The pandemic may not have hit home to them personally, yet.”

As for the protestors, Leebosh notes that they are on the fringe in Canada; they represent a small minority.

Among those who embrace wild conspiracy theories and fall victim to disinformation campaigns, Leebosh says they can get stuck in an echo chamber —“looped to this skepticism of the media and institutions.

“If you’re someone who feels alienated and disempowered, it makes you feel more powerful if you scoff at all of the authorities. It’s like this alternate way of describing the world may be one that comforts them. You suddenly feel empowered.”

At Think Upstream, we’ve spent the last month fact checking conspiracy theories and disinformation. I’ve got a round-up of our work below. Please share it with your networks—social research shows that people tend to believe what their friends and families think about issues like this. You could be an influencer.

Think Upstream's latest

Special mention

Talking to young kids about COVID-19 can be a challenge, especially when you’re juggling working at home and child care duties all day. Think Upstream is pleased to partner with the Emmy award-winning duo of Susan McLennan and Mike Erskine-Kellie to present a series of children’s videos educating children about the basics of what they can do to prevent COVID-19 spread. Watch (and share!) the first video here. And here’s Susan on TV talking about the series.


This is Nurses Week. We thank and honour all nurses who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, risking their own lives to protect others.


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