▶ 78% expect more government assistance

▶ Many say outlook on life, work practices will change

▶ 37% feel airport should open only when vaccine is available

▶ More than a third will change the way they work

Nearly half the Maltese say they are “likely” to change their outlook on life after the COVID-19 pandemic, and the vast majority want the airport to remain shut, despite the devastating economic consequences, a survey commissioned by Times of Malta has shown.

But 78% expect the government to provide more financial assistance to businesses while more than a third of those in employment say that the restrictions will force them to change the way they work, according to the survey that reflects a country fast adapting to a new reality. 

The study was carried out by EMCS, an advisory and market research firm, between Monday and Thursday among 524 respondents. It has a margin of error of 4.3%.

The job situation

The majority – 71% – of those in employment do not fear losing their job. Eleven per cent are ‘fearful’ or ‘extremely fearful’.

There are variances in responses between those working in the private sector as opposed to those in the public sector. A total of 83% of those in the public sector are ‘not fearful’ as opposed to 63% of those in the private sector.

Fifteen per cent of the private sector are fearful for their jobs as opposed to five per cent of the public sector, with the rest expressing neutral views.

Over half (57%) of those in employment would be willing to accept a wage cut to help secure their job, with the majority (83%) willing to forgo under 10%. Over the three surveys carried out so far by EMCS, those willing to take a wage cut ranged between 55% and 64%, with those willing to forgo 10% of their wages or less ranging between 71% and 83%.

Just under half (46%) of those interviewed indicated they are currently in employment while 6% said they were unemployed. Of the unemployed, 47% indicated they had been in employment a month ago. All within this cluster indicated they had been made redundant following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Fifteen per cent of the private sector are fearful for their jobs as opposed to five per cent of the public sector

Among those in employment, just over half indicated they were working from home. The figure remains consistent with the study conducted a fortnight ago. A total of 42% of those in employment do not think they are likely to make changes to their way of working following COVID-19. Conversely, 35% indicated it was ‘likely’ / ‘most likely’ they would make changes.

Support for the government’s hand­ling of the health crisis remains overwhelmingly high, with 21% expressing ‘positive’ views and 73% feeling ‘extremely positive’. 

When it comes to the economy, 36% of respondents expressed ‘positive’ views while 31% felt ‘extremely positive’. The positive perception decreased by 8% when compared with the study conducted two weeks ago and is the lowest score over a one-month period. Three-quarters of the population expect the government to come up with more financial assistance to support the economy. There was no variance when analysing responses by those who work in the private and public sector.

The survey showed the self-employed were the least positive. In the previous study those expressing a negative view with the handling of the economic situation related primarily to individuals who were currently employed.

The personal concerns have decreased since the previous study. The main concern relates to the health of loved ones, though this figure has decreased from 75% two weeks ago to 67%.

Two weeks ago, half of the respondents said they were concerned about their physical health (now 36%) and 43% were concerned about their mental health (now 36%). Concerns about their financial situation remained stable (then 35%, now 36%).

Income and expenditure trends

A total of 62% of respondents indicated their income had remained stable over the past month, while 33% said their income had decreased. Of these, 19% indicated it had slightly decreased while 14% said it had reduced considerably.

A total of 31% indicated that their expenditure had not altered over the past month, 35% indicated that their expenditure had decreased while 34% indicated it had increased.

A review of responses by age indicates that a higher percentage of those aged 65 and over indicated an increase in expenditure (half of those within this age bracket) than other age groups. Conversely, 57% of those falling within the 18-to-24 age bracket indicated a decrease in expenditure.

Moving forward

A total of 43% of respondents are likely to change their outlook on life following COVID-19 (of these, 24% indicated that it was ‘likely’ while 19% indicated that it was ‘most likely’). Conversely, 22% indicated that it was unlikely there would be any changes to their outlook on life.

Two-thirds of respondents feel the government should not start relaxing restrictive measures. Among those who believe that government should start relaxing restrictive measures, 78% believe it should do so over the coming four weeks.

The government announced that some categories of non-essential shops will reopen as from Monday and masks must be worn inside them and on public transport. Certain health services will also resume, as will travel to Gozo.

By and large, the population agrees that schools should remain closed until the end of the current scholastic year.

76% not ready to make trade-off over airport closure

Respondents also insist the airport should not open any time soon, with only 13% indicating that this should be done some time this year. A total of 41% trust the government to decide when best to do so while 38% believe the airport should only reopen once a vaccine is available.

Just over three-quarters (76%) are not ready to make a trade-off in their decision, even if this implies an increase in unemployment. Even among those that answered in the positive (24%), those that believe the airport should reopen any time soon are minimal.

Eight per cent believe the airport should reopen in 2021. Just one to two per cent believe it should start welcoming passengers between May and November.

Tourism is the biggest contributor to Malta’s GDP. Airlines have warned they are on the verge of collapse if they are grounded for much longer because of COVID-19.

‘Next four to six weeks will be critical’

Stefano MalliaStefano Mallia

Stefano Mallia (left), a partner at EMCS, says the data gathered in the survey is interesting as it appears to show the Maltese population has started to adapt to the current situation as a kind of new norm.

Amid the small number of new COVID-19 cases, which has reduced anxieties, the survey again shows the Maltese have a very high level of confidence in the government when it comes to taking decisions on health issues.

“There is complete trust in the decisions being taken by the government even with regard to when the airport should reopen.”

Mallia said there is a very high expectation that the government should come out with more financial aid.

This in itself could be problematic because there is a limit to how much the government can continue to give without jeopardising the very fundamentals of the whole economy.

Secondly, the figures continue to point to a worry about the future within the private sector and even more pronounced within the self-employed segment.

“Having said that, especially when seeing what is happening around us in Europe, the local situation in terms of closure of businesses and unemployment seems to be under control, at least for the time being. With the gradual relaxation of the lockdown measures, what happens over the next four to six weeks will be critical.”

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