When will life return to normal? Montreal health experts offer their best guesses

CBC News asked 170 health experts in Montreal to peer into their crystal balls and guess when they think life will return to a pre-pandemic normal.

We asked epidemiologists, virologists and ER doctors to peer into their crystal balls

A tightly-packed crowd enjoys the Osheaga music festival in 2017. Public events like this seem like a distant memory, but many experts think they will once again be possible. They just don't agree on when. (Radio-Canada)

Maybe later this year, maybe never.

CBC News asked 170 health experts in Montreal to peer into their crystal balls and guess when they think life will return to a pre-pandemic normal. Their answers varied widely, reflecting the many unknowns of the disease, like the development of a vaccine and what the long-term effects will be.

Most respondents — 48 of the 128 who answered — declined to give a time range, saying it depends entirely on a vaccine. But a large portion (42 people) guessed that it would take at least one year, while an optimistic 26 thought that within a year things could resume their usual rhythm.

Only 19 people said that life would never return to normal, or that a "new normal" with more restrictions and cautions would settle in.

Below is a selection of responses that show the range in opinions.

Erica Moodie, professor of biostatistics, McGill University

"No, I don't think it is possible [to return to normal]. But I think this brings advantages to the environment, to reduced burden of commuting, and greater family time."

Benoît Barbeau, virologist and professor, UQAM

"Yes, but with changes in the management of basic sanitary measures in long-term care homes. A return to normal should take about two years."

Erin Strumpf, associate professor of health economics, McGill University

"Even once a vaccine exists, there will be big challenges in getting a high enough rate of vaccine coverage (look at the problems we have getting the flu vaccine to those who are supposed to get it!). So I don't think we will go back to the way things used to be for quite a long time."

Hélène Carabin, professor of epidemiology, Université de Montreal

"I don't believe that everything will return to 'normal'. We learned a lot with the virus and I sincerely hope that the new normal will increase support and resources in public health, and that it will lead to a slightly less globalized world. I also hope that this experience will improve the conditions of seniors in long-term care homes and private residences."

Dr. Nitika Pant Pai, professor of clinical epidemiology, McGill University

"I would like to say December 2020, but I think, today, I will pray for a return to normalcy by March 2021. We will observe the interplay of flu and Covid in the coming fall/winter season. I do hope that any effective vaccine against Covid-19 becomes available by early 2021. That's a tall wish.  But I will remain optimistic."

Mireille Schnitzer, associate professor of biostatistics, Université de Montréal

"Either we accept that life is now far more dangerous than it used to be and accept that many around us will die, or we continue to take measures that interrupt our lives and the economy. Right now, it seems that individuals have diverse ways of dealing with the current situation, some being more careful and some being less. Some of this diversity is related to social and economic disparity; not everyone has the option to isolate. So it's looking like without a vaccine, society is split by individualistic perspectives of risk and also socio-economic status."

Dr. Jonathan Cooperman, emergency physician, Jewish General Hospital

"A return to normal is contingent on a successful vaccine or the development of an effective, long-lasting immune response post-infection. In the meantime, 'normal' will look very different across society. The workplace, school, retail, and even how we interact with each other in society will be somewhat different from place to place."

Martin Olivier, professor of parasitology, McGill University 

"Hopefully after the fall. It depends on the resilience of people globally. And, of course, if an effective vaccine can be used quickly."

Lisa Koski, neuropsychologist, McGill University Health Centre 

"If normal means like before, then only if we are able to develop a highly-effective vaccine, freely available, and a substantial proportion of the population takes it. Otherwise, we are looking at permanent changes to our behaviours in terms of mask-wearing, hand-washing and the ways we interact with others, which in time will begin to feel normal."

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?