James Kavin and his family were scheduled to leave for their dream European vacation this week. Instead, he was forced to cancel the trip that included Italy due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
In 2003, he and his wife had to nix their first big trip together — backpacking through Southeast Asia — because of the SARS outbreak. Kavin was hoping this time was different.
“We were just watching the numbers … obsessing on the news, thinking we could beat it,” said Kavin, who manages a mould and asbestos company in Abbotsford, B.C. But ultimately, they decided to be cautious because his mother-in-law lives with them.
“If we got her sick and it was our fault, that would’ve been just devastating,” said Kavin, 45.
His experience mirrors that of a growing number of Canadians who are taking precautions due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. According to an Angus Reid survey, the number of respondents who see the virus as a “real and serious” threat is now at 42 per cent, up from 31 per cent at the beginning of February.
The numbers reflect hardening anxiety as the illness spreads, Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, told HuffPost Canada on Wednesday. Canada now has over 90 confirmed cases as the World Health Organization declared the quick geographic spread of COVID-19 as a pandemic.
“It does represent a significant increase in anxiety as the spread has gone everywhere,” Kurl said, pointing to a B.C. case of what’s believed to be Canada’s first community transmission of COVID-19 and another in Toronto where a man who went to an international mining conference — attended by the Ontario premier and other politicians — tested positive for the virus.
“Everybody is now finding themselves with a level of proximity to [the cases],” Kurl said.
The fallout includes a jump in how much Canadians are washing their hands, a major precaution against the virus. Three in five (57 per cent) respondents said they’re washing their hands more often, compared to a 16-point decrease from the month before.
One in five Canadians surveyed also said they have been stocking up on supplies.
Between 24 to 31 per cent said they would not attend a concert or sporting event right now or even go to an airport. The Public Health Agency of Canada issued guidelines this week on how to assess the risk of large gatherings such as concerts, festivals and sports events.
About 28 per cent indicated they would cancel any international travel planned in the next six months, like Kavin and his family. While Kavin was refunded for the Italy flights, he estimates they will lose at least $3,000, as well as the Air Miles points they redeemed as part of their overall vacation.
Living in B.C., Kavin said there’s always a mentality of being prepared for “the next big quake” so he keeps extra supplies in his garage and food in the house. As for COVID-19, he will keep watching to see how and when the virus is contained.
Coupled with Canadians’ health anxiety is economic concern. The survey found 66 per cent of Canadians worry the country’s economy will take a hit, and 44 per cent say they’re worried about personal financial loss.
“Ultimately, there will be no blunting some of the impact of this in terms of a downturn in the economy and job losses,” Kurl said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday that the federal government would waive the waiting period for employment insurance benefits and also expand the program to people who don’t normally qualify.
The Liberal government also pledged $1 billion to help provinces and territories buy equipment, increase testing and purchase supplies for health-care workers.
The survey suggested that Canadians are generally confident in the federal and provincial government’s response to the COVID-19 situation.
Nearly half of Canadians, at 49 per cent, said the federal government has done a good job. Provincially, people in B.C. (62 per cent) showed the most confidence in their government’s response, followed by Quebec (60 per cent). The lowest rating came in Alberta with 40 per cent.
Kurl says the results are divided along party lines, and noted the reaction to the government’s responses will change day-to-day. “Interestingly, even though this is about public health, politics is never far from it.”
The Angus Reid Institute survey was conducted online between March 5 and 6 and included a sample of 1,512 people. According to the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.
With a file from The Canadian Press