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A volunteer talks to a woman about how to place a mask on your face in Montreal North, Saturday, May 2, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam has recommended wearing non-medical face masks when grocery shopping or taking public transit.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

With Canada’s economy starting to reopen, a new poll shows less than half of Canadians are wearing personal protective equipment when they go outside their homes.

This week, some provinces are starting to ease off the widespread shutdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As they reopen, physical-distancing measures will remain in place, making it more important that protective gear is available and used, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

“Using masks in situations where it’s more difficult to use full social distancing is going to be very important,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters at a press conference in Ottawa on Sunday. “Certainly we will be seeing more people using masks.”

Since early April, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam has recommended wearing non-medical face masks when grocery shopping or taking public transit. Weeks after that advice was first given, a Nanos Research poll shows most Canadians haven’t picked up the habit.

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According to the poll, conducted for The Globe and Mail, 57 per cent of respondents reported not wearing masks or gloves when they leave their home. Of those who do wear protective gear, 14 per cent report wearing both masks and gloves, 19 per cent say they wear just masks and 10 per cent stick with just gloves.

Nik Nanos, the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, said people over the age of 54 and women are more likely to wear protective equipment when they go out. The poll also shows Ontario residents are the most likely to wear masks and gloves, and Quebec residents are the least likely.

Mr. Nanos said governments need to press the point of wearing protective gear whenever they talk about reopening the economy, otherwise they risk even less compliance with the public-health advice.

“The problem is that people connect the reopening of businesses with the view that there is less of a health threat, when the reality is we still need to remain vigilant,” he said.

The poll was conducted between April 25 and 27, with 1,049 Canadians surveyed through land lines, cellphones and online. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

With more people returning to work, the government is expecting demand for personal protective equipment to go up. Mr. Trudeau said the federal government is establishing a COVID-19 supply council so that advocacy organizations and industry groups can help advise Ottawa on how to meet the heightened need for gear.

In mid-April, the federal government made wearing non-medical masks on airplanes mandatory. Asked whether masks will become compulsory in other parts of daily life, Mr. Trudeau said that will depend on each jurisdiction and could differ between regions.

Businesses will need to know what protocols their staff will have to follow and where they can buy the equipment that is already in short supply, said Perrin Beatty, chief executive of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and one of the members of the new supply council.

Right now, he said, there is a “hodgepodge” of rules across Canada, which is further complicating the issue.

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