Mar 12

Today's EU challenge: The consumer perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is proving to be the greatest socio-economic disruptor in Europe since the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The epidemic is impacting, to varying degrees, all four EU countries which Euroconsumers represents. Italy is in lockdown, Spain is beginning to close its schools and the situation is quickly escalating in both Portugal and Belgium. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, COVID-19 is now officially a global pandemic.

Given the gravity of the situation, Euroconsumers set out to assess the consumer perspective on the epidemic. Between the 5th and 9th of March, our member organisations (Altroconsumo - Italy, OCU - Spain, DECO Proteste - Portugal and Test Achats/Test Aankoop - Belgium) conducted a survey in their respective countries to gauge the state of mind, level of information and confidence of citizens regarding the coronavirus crisis. Our findings are particularly interesting given that we have evaluated consumer attitudes towards the COVID-19 outbreak in four different countries which are currently undergoing different stages of the epidemic. 

While the most of the population of all four countries reports to be somewhat/well informed (the lowest figure is Belgium’s with 62.2%), only in Italy have the majority (60%) of people actually changed their daily habits (such as working from home or avoiding public transport and crowds). In Portugal, for example, this figure is only 38%.) Similarly, only in Italy is a majority (63.8%) strictly following the recommendations of the health authorities.

For a majority of the Italian and Spanish populations, the coronavirus is having some/a lot of impact on their financial situation (55% and 56% respectively). This figure is significantly lower in Portugal (27%) and Belgium (33%). Similarly, most Italians and Spaniards report that COVID-19 is having some/a lot of impact on their social life (62% and 53%). Again, the statistic is lower in Portugal (29%) and Belgium (37%). Only in Italy has a majority of the population (60%) bought products for the prevention of COVID-19, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitisers, etc. In the other three countries, this figure is approximately 40% (the lowest being Portugal with 38%). Average spending on prevention products ranges from €20 in Portugal to €30 in Italy. 

As to the coverage of the crisis, in all countries, most citizens believe that the government and national authorities are treating COVID-19 in an adequate/too reassuring manner. Interestingly, a significant percentage of consumers (61%-69%)  view the media’s treatment of the subject as too alarmist. Rather alarmingly, in no country does a majority trust public authorities to effectively handle the situation. These figures range from 36% in Belgium to 47% in Italy. In the four countries relevant shares of the population - Portugal (51%), Belgium (44%), Italy (36%), Spain (24%) -  consider their health system not prepared to face a potential big increase in the number of infected people. At the same time, in all countries except for Belgium, at least 60% of the population believes that the COVID-19 outbreak will bring serious damage to the economy. 

The COVID-19 epidemic is a global crisis which threatens to undermine one of the founding principles of the EU project: European solidarity. We therefore call on the EU institutions to take action, and coordinate a pan-European approach fueled by collaboration, dialogue, sound medical advice and economic support,” said Marco Pierani, Director of Public Affairs.

At Euroconsumers, we believe that the coronavirus pandemic calls for a higher degree of action at the EU level. The EU institutions are in a privileged position to effectively coordinate the decisions of all Member States, as well as to provide adequate information to all citizens. The EU institutions must take this opportunity to step and demonstrate the true meaning of European solidarity.