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Opinion: Nearly a quarter of British Columbians would welcome vaccine passports back as COVID concerns abate

More than half are satisfied with the way the provincial government has managed the pandemic.
It is clear that COVID-19 remains a concern, but at a lower level than two years ago.

In March 2021, as the world wondered what the next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic would bring, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked British Columbians about the state of affairs.

At the time, 81 per cent of the province’s residents declared that COVID-19 was “a real threat,” while 15 per cent disagreed.

Almost two years later, with a vaccinated population, the return of commuting and office life, and no major regulatory modifications, the numbers have moved. Right now, COVID-19 continues to represent a threat for almost seven in 10 British Columbians (69 per cent, down 12 points since March 2021), while 27 per cent (up 12 points) disagree.

It is clear that COVID-19 remains a concern, but at a lower level than two years ago. On a regional basis, residents of Vancouver Island are more likely to remain preoccupied about the pandemic (75 per cent), followed by their counterparts in Metro Vancouver (73 per cent), Southern B.C. (63 per cent), the Fraser Valley (59 per cent) and Northern B.C. (54 per cent).

There are some fluctuations in the way British Columbians assess the performance of elected officials and the media. More than half (55 per cent, down five points since March 2021) are satisfied with the way the provincial government has managed the pandemic. The rating is slightly higher for municipal governments (56 per cent, down two points), but lower for the federal government in Ottawa (49 per cent, down four points), the official opposition in Victoria (35 per cent, up three points) and the official opposition in Ottawa (36 per cent, up four points).

We continue to see sizable proportions of British Columbians saying they are satisfied with the way their family (79 per cent, down four points) and their friends (71 per cent, down two points) have handled COVID-19.

The numbers are relatively stable when the province’s residents are asked about the way non-governmental associations (49 per cent, down three points), unions (39 per cent, down four points) and trade associations (36 per cent, up two points) dealt with the pandemic. The biggest shifts are related to journalists.

In early 2021, 63 per cent of British Columbians were satisfied with the way television news was handling the pandemic. This month, the proportion has fallen to 52 per cent. There are also noticeable drops for radio news (48 per cent, down nine points) and newspapers (48 per cent, down seven points).

We also asked British Columbians if implementing additional measures to deal with COVID-19 would be justified right now. About one in four (23 per cent) would welcome the re-introduction of “proof of vaccination” certificates (or “vaccine passports”) to access specific venues and locations.

Fewer British Columbians believe it would be justified to bring back mask mandates and make it mandatory to wear a mask or face covering when entering an indoor premise (21 per cent), have capacity restrictions for worship services, concerts and sporting events (17 per cent) or ban travel to other Canadian provinces (six per cent).

These numbers differ greatly from the way British Columbians felt at other points of the pandemic. In January 2021, 81 per cent of the province’s residents agreed with the prohibition of in-person worship services. In August 2021, support for “proof of vaccination” ranged from 61 per cent to 77 per cent, depending on venue and occasion.

There are some subtle political differences among those who want tougher restrictions. BC NDP voters are keener on the “vaccine passport” concept (30 per cent) than residents who voted for the BC Greens (26 per cent) or the BC Liberals (25 per cent) in the 2020 election. Ensuring that crowds are smaller at churches and hockey games is more of a priority for BC Green voters (25 per cent) than for BC Liberals (22 per cent) and BC New Democrats (18 per cent).

While skepticism towards governments and the media has risen, the appetite to return to the regulations of the past is not as high. For 62 per cent of British Columbians, we are in a different moment and there is no need for additional public health measures related to COVID-19. This leaves 18 per cent of residents who feel we should have stricter public health measures in place to stop the spread of the virus, and nine per cent who consider the pandemic a hoax that never should have altered our lives.

The two minority arguments feature unique quirks. The “hoax” theory is slightly more popular in Southern B.C. (25 per cent) and Northern B.C. (23 per cent), while stricter measures would be welcomed by 26 per cent of BC Liberal voters, 20 per cent of BC NDP voters and 16 per cent of BC Green voters.

Our survey shows that British Columbians are now more critical of the way COVID-19 was dealt with, but not to the point of clamouring for the return of mandates and restrictions. The two strident groups that call for change – either in the form of stricter measures or in a complete denial of the existence of the virus – are decidedly smaller than the majority of residents who are content with post-pandemic life.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted on Feb. 10-12, 2023, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.