VANCOUVER -- British Columbians have been told in the starkest terms to stay home and limit outings to essential trips like getting groceries.

They've been told they can go for a walk to get some fresh air, but must stay two metres away from people who do not live with them. The province has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, and the highest number of deaths from the virus in Canada.

Despite that, this weekend social media and news sites are full of photos of people gathering in crowds at parks and beaches, leading some municipalities to close popular hiking trails and parks.

A new poll shows that 30 per cent of Canadians still think it's fine to hold a gathering of 10 people or less, defying health officials' guidance.

The poll, conducted by Vancouver-based Research Co., also found that 22 per cent of Canadians think it's reasonable to continue visiting elderly relatives. The virus has proved especially deadly for older people, and health officials across Canada have asked people to refrain from visiting elderly people because of the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus to them. That's a risk even if you do not have any symptoms.

While most Canadians - 82 per cent - describe the situation as a "major crisis," 13 per cent said it was a minor crisis, while three per cent said it was not a crisis at all.

Women and older people were more likely to describe the pandemic as a major crisis: 85 per cent of women, compared with 78 per cent of men, said COVID-19 is a major crisis, while 86 per cent of those over age 55 said it was a major crisis compared with 78 per cent of respondents aged 18-34.

B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has asked British Columbians to work from home if possible and only go out for essential trips such as grocery shopping. She has said it's fine to go outside for a walk - as long as you can keep two metres away from others. Any sport that could put you in contact with others is not a good idea, she said.

"Having friends over for coffee or dinner is not social distancing," Toronto's medical health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said last week. "Arranging playdates for your children is also not social distancing. Visiting friends or family in long term care homes or hospital is not social distancing."

The Research Co. poll was conducted online among 1,000 adults in Canada between March 19 and March 20, 2020. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.