Poll shows French-speaking Quebecers have North America's lowest COVID-19 fear

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A poll released this week made a splash when it showed that Quebec’s English and French speakers are seeing the COVID-19 pandemic differently, with English speakers more worried.

Premier François Legault even blamed English-language media for their readers’ fearfulness.

But one of the groups responsible for the poll wants to clarify something: the real anomaly is among the province's French speakers, who the pollsters found have the lowest levels of COVID-related anxiety in North America.

English-speaking Quebecers are generally in line with the rest of Canadians, as well as Americans, says Jack Jedwab, the president of the Association for Canadian Studies, one of the two groups that commissioned the Léger Marketing poll.

“The conclusion seemed to be that anglophones were interpreting things differently from other Quebecers,” Jedwab wrote in an analysis released Friday.

“Further analysis…reveals that anglophones are more in line with the broader levels of anxiety and it is Quebec francophones that are outliers with respect to levels of anxiety.”

Canadians, on average, are also less worried than Americans about getting the coronavirus.

But that may make sense, since Canada’s per-capita rate of infections is also lower than the US’s—except in Quebec, and particularly Montreal, which is one of the world’s hardest-hit cities.

When asked if they were personally worried about contracting COVID, 48 per cent of Quebec French speakers said yes, compared with 69 per cent of English speakers.

Across the rest of Canada, on average, 57 per cent said they were afraid. In the US, people are more afraid, with an average of 65 per cent worried about becoming infected.

The numbers were all gathered in web surveys conducted between May 1 and May 10 with a total of 2,500 respondents from Canada and the US, and another 1638 Quebecers. 

The poll also showed that across the continent, people’s levels of anxiety translated into their behaviour. Across Canada, for example, 94 per cent of people who were “very afraid” said that in the previous week, they hadn’t gone out except for essentials, and 68 per cent of them had worn masks.

Among those who were “not afraid at all,” 64 per cent had only gone out for essentials and only 20 per cent had worn a mask.

Mask-wearing in particular is much more common in the U.S., the poll suggests—89 per cent of “very afraid” Americans are wearing them, but even among the “not afraid at all” Americans, more than half, 52 per cent, are wearing masks.

“Ordinarily low anxiety is a good thing in the case of the pandemic,” Jedwab concluded, “unless it leads to disregard for government guidelines.”

Important context for the numbers is Quebec’s very high infection rate, compared to other provinces and to most places in the U.S.

Overall, Canada is doing better than the U.S., with a current number of 4.45 deaths per million, compared to the U.S.’s 5.36 deaths per million, according to the Oxford University-based data website Our World In Data.

But Quebec, and especially Montreal, is a different story. Montreal currently has 999 confirmed cases of COVID for every 100,000 people, or almost one in 100.

That’s lower than a few places in the world, particularly New York City, where the rate this week was around 2,200 cases per 100,000 people, and the death rate is even higher than the confirmed cases would suggest.

But Quebec and Montreal are still very high compared to the rest of Canada and most of the U.S. An analysis of global data by La Presse found that Quebec’s daily death tally last weekend put it in the world's top seven hardest-hit spots.

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