Some Shifts in Perceptions in Malta

I once again bring to you the results of a research exercise done by the EMCS (www.emcs.com.mt) between Monday 25th May and Friday 29th May 2020. In total 494 individuals aged 18 and over were interviewed, with data being representative of the local population in terms of gender, age (18 and over) and location of residence with a margin of error of  +/- 4.3%  at 95% confidence interval.

In line with past surveys, the Maltese are overall satisfied with the way the government is handling the COVID-19 situation, both in terms of the health situation and the economic one. 73% of the general public is of the opinion that the government is handling the economic situation caused by COVID-19 in Malta well. Such figure is consistent with the study conducted 2 weeks ago (then 72%).
While overall, locals still have stronger positive views to how Government is handling the health situation (83%) there has been an 8% decrease in positive views since the previous study (then 91%). This is the second consecutive time that locals’ positive perception has decreased (94% positive views 4 weeks ago).

While the majority of locals (64%) expect the Government to come out with more financial assistance to support the economy, for the second consecutive time, this represents a decrease over previous studies (78% 4 weeks ago and 71% in the previous study).

Among those in employment (50% of the sample), 42% indicated to be working from home. This figure being in line with the previous study (then 43%). Of these, 49% would like to continue working remotely once the pandemic is over. This represents an increase over the previous study. Then 38% had indicated a willingness to work remotely following the pandemic.

With 65% responses, overall, individuals who are currently in employment do not fear losing their job. Such figure has remained constant over the past two weeks. That said, 13% are fearful. This represents a 6% decrease over the previous survey.  

In line with the previous study, there are variances in responses between those working in the private sector as opposed to those in the public sector. 80% (84%previously) of those in the public sector are not fearful/ not fearful at all as opposed to 56% (52% in the previous study) of those in the private sector. While the figure of those in the public sector has remained consistent, 16% of the private sector are fearful, a decrease of 12% over the previous study.

67% (57% 2 weeks ago) of respondents indicated that their income had remained stable over the past month. Conversely, 29% indicated that their income had decreased, a decrease of 11% over the previous study – then 40%.

In terms of expenditure, 45% indicated that their expenditure had not altered over the past month. This represents an increase of 13% since on the previous study. 26% (37% two weeks ago) indicated that their expenditure had decreased while 29% (32% two weeks ago) indicated that it had increased. A review of responses by age illustrates that those indicting an increase in expenditure increased with age, with the highest percentage being registered among those aged 65 and over (39% of those within this age bracket indicated that their expenditure had increased).

54% of respondents agree that the government should start relaxing restrictive (partial lockdown) measures. This represents a 10% increase since the previous study, and a 28% increase since the study conducted 4 weeks ago. 37% do not agree (2 weeks ago the percentage of those that disagreed stood at 47% and is likewise showing a constant decline. The percentage stood at 66% four weeks ago).

A review of respondents’ attitudes towards shopping for non essential items (such as clothing, footwear etc) evidences that COVID-19 is not likely to impact considerably consumers’ purchasing trends among regular shoppers (those that shop every 2 months or more often). Prior to the COVID outbreak 52% of respondents indicated shopping for non essential products once a month or more often with 21% indicating to do so twice to three times a month or more often (such figures are in line with the previous study). Following the relaxation of restrictions, 25% of locals had since gone shopping, up 8% from the previous study. Among those that had not yet gone, 15% indicated their likelihood of going within one month, while another 20% indicated their likelihood to go shopping for non essential products within 2 months (2 weeks ago these stood at 10% and 21% respectively).

Mixed views were noted when analysing consumers’ opinions with respect to major purchases such as furniture, electrical/electronic devices, though locals are less prudent than they were two weeks ago. 38% (up 14% from the previous study) of the population think that now is the right moment for people to make major purchases such as furniture, electrical/electronic devices and similar, with another 22% indicating ‘over the next 3 months’ (26% previously) and 20% (22% in the previous study) by year end. Conversely, 19% had conservative views indicating that it would be opportune to wait until after the new year, a 9% decrease since the previous study.

Likewise, mixed views were observed with respect to online shopping trends following the COVID-19 outbreak. 34% indicated that their online shopping had increased (30% previously) while 25% indicated a decrease (34% previously). Once COVID is over 36% plan on doing more shopping online than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. 2 weeks ago 40% had indicated their likelihood to shop more online following COVID.

Last year 73% of locals visited a restaurant once a month or more often (with 33% indicating to do some once a week or more often). Nonetheless, since the easing of restrictions 6% indicated to have eaten out (in a restaurant). Among those that had not yet visited, 29% indicated their likelihood to visit over the coming 8 weeks.

Travelling is likely to be considerably impacted by COVID-19 though locals’ negative perceptions have decreased since the last study. A review of travel habits evidences that last year 58% of respondents had travelled at least once (this being in line with the previous study, then 60%). Nonetheless, a total of 29% have now indicated their likelihood of travelling within 6 months or more often once the airport is open. This represents a 10% increase since the previous study. Conversely, 30% will wait until a vaccine is available prior to travelling (this stood at 47% 2 weeks ago).

Furthermore, while the majority of respondents (66%) do not agree with the idea of a safe bubble that has been proposed whereby flights to and from countries deemed to have a low number of Covid cases may operate, such figure decreased considerably (86% two week ago).

Overall, locals would not consider local tourism. Over the coming 2 months 11% would consider local tourism in Malta.

A total of 14% would consider accommodation in Gozo over the same period.

The general public’s views as to when the Government should open up the airport has shifted considerably since the previous study, with 43% now of the opinion that the airport should open some time this year. Two weeks ago the figure stood at 10%. Among this cluster (that are of the opinion that the airport should open), 54% indicated that this should be done after August.

That said, the majority (57%) are still of the opinion that the airport should not open this year. Furthermore, the majority of the population (71% now, 77% 2 weeks ago) are not ready to change their opinion, even if such a decision would result in an increase in unemployment (of between 15% and 20%).

47% of respondents are likely to change their outlook on life following COVID (of these 26% indicated that it was likely while 21% indicated that it was most likely). This figure is consistent with the previous study (then also 47%).

Conversely, 18% indicated that it was unlikely that their outlook on life would change (17% two weeks ago).

The final part of the survey sought to gauge peoples’ trust in the information given on COVID by 3 prominent individuals. With 92% positive responses, the vast majority of the population trusts the information given by Charmaine Gauci. 82% indicated trusting Chris Fearne and 60% trusting the information given by Robert Abela.

The research results in more detail can be viewed below:-

•With 73% responses (72% in the previous study) the general public is of the opinion that the government is handling the economic situation caused by COVID-19 in Malta well, with 33% expressing positive views while 40% felt extremely positive (previously 35% and 37% respectively).
•With 83% positive responses the general public is of the opinion that the government is handling well the health situation caused by COVID-19 in Malta (29% expressing positive views and 54% felt extremely positive). 4% had negative views.
•The survey evidences an 8% decline in peoples’ positive perception as to how the health situation is being handled. This figure being the lowest to date.
•64%  of the population expect the Government to come up with more financial assistance to support the economy.
•This represents a decrease from the previous study. Then 71% had answered in the positive.
• There was no significant variance when analysing responses by those that work in the private and public sector.
•50% of those interviewed indicated to be currently in employment.
•A total of 5% indicated to be currently unemployed. Such figure being consistent with previous studies.
•Of the unemployed (25 individuals) 36% indicated to have been in employment a month ago. 78% within this cluster (7 individuals) indicated to have been made redundant following the COVID-19 outbreak.
•42% of respondents indicated to currently be working from home. This figure is consistent with the findings of 2 weeks ago (then 43%).
•Of these, 49% would like to continue working remotely once the pandemic is over. This represents an increase over the previous study. Then 38% had indicated a willingness to work remotely following the pandemic.
•With 65% responses, overall individuals who are currently in employment do not fear losing their job .
•That said, 13% are fearful (6% fearful and 7% extremely fearful). This represents a decrease of 6% over the previous survey.
•There are variances in responses between those working in the private sector as opposed to those in the public sector. 80% of those in the public sector are not fearful/ not fearful at all as opposed to 56% of those in the private sector.
•16% of the private sector are fearful, a decrease of 12% over the previous study.
•No significant variances were observed when analysing data for the public sector over the past two weeks. Then 6% were fearful (now 8%).
•67% (57% 2 weeks ago) of respondents indicated that their income had remained stable over the past month. Conversely, 29% indicated that their income had decreased. The number of individuals that indicated a decrease in income over the past month decreased (2 weeks ago it stood at 40%).
• The age cluster with the highest percentage indicating that their income had decreased related to those aged 18 to 44 (40% indicated so). Two weeks 53% of those ages 18 to 54 had indicated a decrease in income.
•In terms of expenditure, 45% (32% 2 weeks ago) indicated that their expenditure had not altered over the past month. This represents an increase of 13% since the previous study. 26% (37% two weeks ago) indicated that their expenditure had decreased while 29% (32% two weeks ago) indicated that it had increased.
•A review of responses by age highlights that those indicating an increase in expenditure increased with age, with the highest percentage being registered among those aged 65 and over (39% of those within this age bracket indicated an increase in expenditure/spending).
•54% of respondents agree that the government should start relaxing restrictive (partial lockdown) measures. This represents a 10% increase since the previous study, and a 28% increase since the study conducted 4 weeks ago.
•37% do not agree. (2 weeks ago the percentage of those that disagreed stood at 47% and is likewise showing a constant decline. The percentage stood at 66% 4 weeks ago).
•Prior to COVID, 52% of respondents indicated shopping for non essential products once a month or more often with 21% indicating to do so twice to three times a month or more often. Such figures are in line with the previous study (then 51%).
•Following the relaxation of restrictions, 25% of locals had gone shopping, up 8% from 2 weeks ago.
•Among those that have not yet gone, 15% (10% 2 weeks ago) indicated their likelihood of going within one month, while another 20% (21% 2 weeks ago) indicated their likelihood to go shopping for non essential products within 2 months.
•Such figures imply that among regular shoppers (those that shop every 2 months or more often), COVID-19 is not anticipated to alter considerably their shopping habits.
•38% (24% 2 weeks ago) of the population think that now is the right moment for people to make major purchases such as furniture, electrical/electronic devices, up 14% since 2 weeks ago.
•Another 22% (26% two weeks ago) indicated ‘over the next 3 months’.
•Conversely, 19% had conservative views indicating that it would be opportune to wait until after the new year, a 9% decrease since the previous study.
•There were mixed reactions with respect to online shopping trends following the COVID-19 outbreak.
•While 34% (30% in the previous study) indicated that their online shopping had increased, 25% (34% in the previous study) indicated a decrease.
•36% (40% two weeks ago) plan on doing more shopping online than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
•Last year 73% of locals visited a restaurant once a month or more often (33% going at least once a week).
•Since the easing of restrictions 6% indicated to have eaten out (in a restaurant).
•Last year 58% of respondents travelled at least once, this figure being in line with the previous study (then 60%).
•Nonetheless, 29% indicated their likelihood of travelling within the coming 6 months once the airport is open. This represents a 10% increase since the previous study.
•Conversely, 30% will wait until a vaccine is available prior to travelling (this stood at 47% 2 weeks ago).
•The majority of respondents (66%) do not agree with the idea of a safe bubble that has been proposed whereby flights to and from countries deemed to have a low number of Covid cases will take place.
•That said, this figure decreased considerably over the past 2 weeks (then 86% were contrary to the safe bubble idea).
•Overall, locals are not inclined to consider local tourism, be it in Malta (65% answering in the negative) or Gozo (56% answered in the negative) any time soon.
•Over the coming 2 months 11% would consider local tourism in Malta. A total of 14%would consider accommodation in Gozo over the same period.
•43% of locals are of the opinion that the airport should open some time this year. This figure is significantly greater than two weeks ago (then 10% indicated that this should be done some time this year).
•Among this cluster (that are of the opinion that the airport should open), 54% indicated that this should be done after August.
•37% (45% two weeks ago) are of the opinion that the airport should only open up once a vaccine is available.
•None of the respondents indicated that ‘when the government decides to’ this time round. (39% 2 weeks ago).
•The majority (71%) are not ready to make a trade off in their decision, should this imply an increase in unemployment (this stood at 77% 2 weeks ago).
•Among those that answered in the positive (29%), 27% believe the airport should re-open some time this year (13% two weeks ago).
•47% are likely to change their outlook on life following COVID. Such figure is consistent with the results of the previous study.
•Conversely, 18% indicated that it was unlikely that their outlook on life to change. (2 weeks ago this stood at 17%)
•Of the 4 individuals under review:
•Charmaine Gauci is the most trusted with 92% of respondents indicating so, followed by Chris Fearne with 82%.
Silvan Mifsud

Silvan holds a degree in Banking & Finance from the University of Malta and an MBA from the University of Reading, specialising in Corporate Finance and Business Leadership. Silvan has been involved in various sectors of the economy holding various managerial and directorship roles. Silvan is presently working as a Director for Advisory Services at EMCS, whereby he advises various businesses on their strategy, operations, corporate governance, financial performance analysis and sourcing their financing needs.

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