MONTREAL -- NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh spent the first week of the 2021 federal election campaign crisscrossing the country, targeting ridings the NDP doesn’t currently hold but need to pick up if they want to form government.

One week in and the campaign already looks and feels different than 2019, with stops out West and in the Prairies taking priority in the early days.

In 2019, the party still had debt from the 2015 campaign and fundraising efforts were not as good, meaning the first two weeks were spent travelling Ontario and Quebec by bus. The NDP say those financial woes are in the past and this time they’ve chartered a plane for the entire campaign.

But while the NDP’s finances are helping to highlight a more concerted strategy to pick up support from disillusioned Liberals and those who want a more affordable life, the big difference this campaign is COVID-19.

"I know a lot of folks I have spoken with are worried about crowds because we have been away from them for so long, but I have kind of been craving that energy and I love that," Singh told CTV News in an interview at the back of the bus on Saturday.

"I am happy to be around people. I just want to make sure we are safe and not putting anyone's health at risk."

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, cases as of August 20 have gone up by 38 per cent in a week. In about that same time, Singh has visited about 10 cities in five different provinces.

If cases continue to rise, Singh -- who in the first week of the campaign took part in at least three virtual events -- says he is “prepared” to go virtual if needed and park his chartered jet and wrapped buses. His team, he says, is being “vigilant” and routinely monitoring public health advice.

“We have a back up system where we can do events more virtual,” Singh said, adding that his team is being vigilant and monitoring the public health situations.

To offset the risk posed by COVID-19 this campaign, masks are worn on the bus and the plane -- except when eating or drinking -- and at all outdoor events, except for when a speaker is taking questions at a microphone. Most campaign events are held outdoors, and those that aren’t, are kept much smaller than you’d see in a traditional, non-COVID campaign.

COVID-19 precautions, in addition to daily rapid antigen tests, that both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole are using as they hold events, and campaign stops across the country.

But while the parties encourage mask use and attempt to keep numbers down, that’s not always possible. Many meals are eaten indoors, or on the bus, and some events, all with mask mandates, are held inside.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh with supporters

"I am not so worried for myself, but I am worried that I do not want to in any way add to a potential spread," said Singh, who is fully vaccinated. The party has required all NDP candidates, travelling staff and media on the bus or plane to be as well.

Then there is crowd management, which those planning Singh’s campaign admit can be hard to do.

At Montreal’s pride parade on Aug. 15, Singh was walking alongside thousands of people, many asking the leader to pose for a selfie, group shot or simply a brief one-on-one chat. Not all were masked and few practised social distancing.

In Ontario, a whistlestop in Parkdale-High Park had upwards of 70 people crowded in front of a campaign office. Ontario has a 100 person limit on outdoor social gatherings.

In Alberta, where there are no longer restrictions on indoor or outdoor social gatherings, Singh’s outdoor rally in Edmonton Griesbach drew an estimated 200 people. The party says all were asked to wear a mask and information was collected for contact tracing purposes.

Singh admits the different rules add a “layer of complexity” to the campaign and that the public health guidelines require his team to “be really adaptive.”

Asked whether he or the campaign ever considered being consistent across the country and sticking to the most restrictive of the provincial guidelines, Singh said the party has tried to keep gatherings small.

“We were trying to keep our gatherings to as small as possible, so we initially planned for 50 people in Edmonton and there was just an incredibly outpouring, more than we expected,” Singh said.

Despite his repeated public requests for the prime minister to hold off calling an election until the pandemic is over, Singh says he is proud of the first week and is looking forward to the next few weeks on the road.

“I do miss being able to connect with people in the same way we would usually, with large crowds I get a lot of energy from them," Singh said. "We have been able to do a lot of really important things that I am really proud of, that we were able to highly people, tell their stories and share with people what we can do to make people's lives.