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A woman adjusts her mask while she waits in line as the city's public health unit holds a walk-in clinic testing for COVID-19, in Montreal, on March 23, 2020.Christinne Muschi/Reuters

An online survey suggests Quebecers are the most likely in Canada to believe the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is over, despite having the highest caseload in the country by far.

The poll conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies showed that 54 per cent of respondents in Quebec believe the first wave is over, compared to 47 per cent in British Columbia, 41 per cent in Ontario and 39 per cent in Atlantic Canada.

Quebecers were also the least likely to believe there will be a second wave of the virus, at 67 per cent, compared to 78 per cent in Ontario and 80 per cent in Atlantic Canada.

The survey comes despite the fact that Quebec is the undisputed hot spot of COVID-19 in Canada, with more than half the country’s 100,000 cases.

The province reported 42 additional deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus on Thursday, for a total of 5,340, as well as 120 new cases.

Quebec says 22,754 of the province’s 54,383 cases are considered recovered.

Meanwhile, the province took another step toward restoring normalcy on Thursday with the announcement that daycares in the Montreal region would be allowed to return to full capacity, and that distancing rules would no longer apply within classes of 10 children or less.

Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies said surveys throughout the pandemic have shown that Quebecers – and French-speakers in particular – have consistently shown lower levels of anxiety when it comes to the virus.

“The extent to which people are worried about getting the virus is lower here, despite paradoxically the very high number of cases and the higher fatality rates on average than anywhere else in the country,” Jedwab said in a phone interview.

The same survey showed that Quebecers were most likely to rank their mental health as “excellent” or “very good.”

Jedwab said he believes the provincial government’s positive messaging surrounded COVID-19, often paired with images of rainbows in windows and the message “Ca va bien aller” (“Everything will be OK”), may have played a role.

Furthermore, he noted that Premier Francois Legault, who has enjoyed a high approval rating, has constantly emphasized the fact that around 80 per cent of the province’s deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities or seniors residences, which could lead the rest of the public to believe they’re less at risk.

“Quebecers do not feel they’re going to get the contagion, and I think that has to do a lot with the messaging,” he said.

Jedwab said that so far, data does not indicate that Quebecers’ optimism had led to lower levels of compliance with public health directives, although he worries this could happen in the future.

But Dr. Brett Thombs, a professor with McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine who is heading up a project to review the evidence measuring the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, warns against drawing broad conclusions based on the survey.

He said it’s very hard to compare different regions when it comes to COVID-19 anxiety, because many of the differences may have existed before the pandemic began.

“We have to be very cautious about attributing this to how they reacted to COVID, compared to how they were in the first place,” he said.

Thombs said a study of vulnerable patients in four countries suggested that levels of anxiety rose less during COVID-19 in Canada and France than in the United States and the United Kingdom, something he attributes in part to a “highly coherent political response” in the countries that fare better.

In general, he said leaders across Canada have provided “steady messaging” and a relatively united front, which can reassure citizens.

But he said he’s seen no scientific evidence to suggest people in different regions of Canada have dramatically different anxiety levels or mental health concerns when it comes to the novel coronavirus.

The web survey was conducted online between June 12 and 14 and involved 1,527 Canadians and 1,004 Americans. In accordance with polling industry standards, online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error.

Blood samples collected from tens of thousands of Canadians will soon be tested for signs of COVID-19 antibodies as the federal government seeks to learn how many people have already contracted the novel coronavirus.

The Canadian Press

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