One in five Manitobans plans to visit loved ones outside of their household for the holidays, a recent poll has found — even as the province continues to be a leader in COVID-19 cases per capita.

The study, held by Canadian polling services Angus Reid Institute and Cardus, found 20 per cent of Manitobans say they plan to meet with friends and family, and five per cent say they plan to travel outside of their communities, to celebrate the holidays.

Anxiety about contracting COVID-19 or passing it on to friends and family was also recorded: three in four Manitobans polled say they believe the worst of the pandemic's effects are yet to come.

It speaks to a "dissonance" between the data and how people are approaching the holidays, Cardus executive vice-president Ray Pennings said.

"When you ask about Christmas, there was almost a (feeling of) ‘We need to do something, and if it’s going to take stretching the rules and boundaries to do some of it, we’re going to,’" he said. "I found a bit of tension between those answers."

Manitobans were the least likely in the country to admit they’d be leaving home for the holidays, sitting 10 percentage points under the national average.

The poll didn’t necessarily correlate with current case counts in other provinces: 35 per cent of those polled from Alberta, which currently has the most cases per 100,000 residents, said they had holiday gathering plans outside of their household, only one percentage point lower than those polled in Nova Scotia, despite the eastern province having far fewer COVID-19 cases.

"I think what this captures genuinely is a bit of angst that is there," Pennings said.

"I think people have been at it for nine months. I think they’ve been sacrificing for health, and as Christmas comes up, and you ask them to think about Christmas, I think people are saying there’s more to life than just health — family, faith, all these other dimensions of life which are sort of captured in Christmas — matter to us."

Manitobans were also least likely to say they had socialized with others outside of their household in recent weeks: 54 per cent of those polled, compared to the 29 per cent national average. Nearly two-thirds of those Manitoba visitors were family members.

People in provinces with consistently low case counts were most likely to have holiday plans outside of their households.

New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, which currently have the lowest number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000, had the highest percentage of respondents say they planned to gather for the holidays: 59 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively.

Pennings suggested those who were less likely to have a personal connection to the effects of COVID-19, whether it be personal or work life, would be more likely to forgo recommendations from health officials.

"My guess is that there are a whole lot in those rural regions, and in those regions that aren’t feeling as directly impacted… they would say, ‘Wait a minute, we’re putting our lives on hold for what? I don’t know anybody (with COVID),'" he said.

The survey was held online Nov. 24-30 among a randomized sample of 5,003 Canadian adults. A probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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Malak Abas

Malak Abas

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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