Eurispes survey: a year of Covid in Italy
On February 21, 2020, exactly one year ago, the first Italian case of Covid-19 was officially identified in the Lombard village of Codogno, later referred to as “patient 1”. Since that day, in a general disbelief, the virus has rapidly spread in Italy and operating a radical change in lifestyle for Italian people.
The period of strict lockdown set up between March and May to contain the pandemic had a radical and enforced impact on Italian lifestyle. Private housing has suddenly become the only safe place, most shops were closed and, for the few open, with limited access– with very long queue especially in front of supermarkets – as well as schools, restaurants and gyms, all culture and entertainment sites were closed, often indefinitely.
Proximity to others has become a threat to be avoided as much as possible: it has been a year wearing face masks and social distancing, keeping a meter away prevented Italian people from hugging each other and from handshaking, but also took them away the pleasure of enjoying each other’s company, while they keep repeating themselves that “we will be back at hugging each other again”.
Therefore, consumption habits, way of working (with home working increasing), communication methods in everyday life and how people approach the Internet (becoming increasingly crucial and essential Italian people lives), the attitude towards information (pandemic insecurity has led to a surge in television ratings, especially for news and information programs) have forcibly changed.
Moreover, healthcare system has become a point of reference, permanently in the spotlight, between heroic behaviour and deep contradictions, within the framework of a Public Health System pushed close to collapse, revealing its values and weaknesses.
In order to explore, to allow Italians to raise their voice and to analyse how life in Italy has changed during this unprecedented year and what has been the impact on citizens, Eurispes has carried out a Survey on a sample of 2,063 citizens, representative of the Italian population.
The research was carried out through the direct administration of a semi-structured questionnaire, distributed between November 2020 and January 2021.
CONSUMPTION AND NEW HABITS
The impact of the pandemic on consumption habits and lifestyles. 21.9% say they have ordered delivery (food items) for the first time since March 2020, which is right after the covid-19 pandemic exploded. Ordering dinner or other meals at home was already quite common (28.6% did so even before the pandemic), but since March 16.8% of the sample did it for the first time.
For the first time, 13.1% ordered home medicines, in order to avoid queuing at drugstores fearing contagion.
An increased use of new technological communication tools was observed: 45.2% already used to communicate with friends/relatives via video call; with the spread of the virus almost a third did it for the first time (30.7%). In this period, 11.1% of the sample purchased kitchen tools (food robots, bread machines, professional pots, etc.), in line with the boom of more or less last minute “amateur chefs” who spent their free time cooking and who, by doing so, compensated for not being allowed to go to the restaurant.
13.4% have purchased a subscription to streaming platforms (Netflix, Infinity, etc.) (36.3% already did it before). And finally, the decision to buy/rent home fitness equipment involved a not negligible rate of 14% (12.2% already bought/rent it before).
Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, e-commerce remains “unknown” for three out of ten. Delays in access to ultra-broadband networks in some areas of the Italian territory and the persistence of digital illiteracy in a not negligible part of the population (especially among the elderly), led as a result to a considerable percentage of people out of e-commerce: still 29.1% report never shopping online.
On the other hand, with varying intensity, shopping online is becoming the custom for many: 18.2% of the sample rarely shop online, 25.9% sometimes, while 16.3% often and 10.5% habitually.
Over-64s are the only age group in which those who never shop online prevail (59%).
Clothing, books, technologies items are those mostly purchased online.
Items purchased online include: clothing (only a third, 33.7% never did so), books (34.5% never did so), technological equipment (36.2% never did so), household items (39.6% never did so), movies/TV series via platform (41.9% never did so). Products which are less online purchased are medicines (79.4% have never bought them online), beverages (71.5%), online courses (67.5%) and, in general, food (63.8%). Following the perfumery/beauty products (57.1% never buy them online).
A very large gap between the generations emerges in terms of online purchase of clothing: only 16.8% of 18-24 year olds do not, against 24.4% of 25-34 year olds, 27.3% of 35-44 year olds, 37.3% of 45-64 year olds, and 52.8% of over-64s, the only category in which non-buyers prevail. For technological equipment (TV, smartphones, tablets, etc.), for books, for audio-visual products, online buyers increase as the age decrease; in any case, there are fewer buyers among the elderly.
How travels change: less public transport. A quarter of respondents said they avoided public transport (25.4%) as from the beginning of the health emergency’s explosion. For the first time, 9% started cycling, 7.4% in electric scooters – a not negligible percentages taking into account the difficulties related to climatic conditions, the characteristics of many cities and for some even physical limits. Finally, concerning longer journeys, there are almost a third of citizens (30.9%) who started avoiding trains and planes – a quota that would rise if including just those who were used to travel by these means of transport even before (indeed, some did not travel by train and plane even before by choice or lifestyle).
During the first rigorous lockdown adults discovered, more than the young people, video calls to communicate with relatives and friends they could not meet in person: 33.7% of 45-64-year-olds did so for the first time, compared to 23.1% of 18-24-year-olds, more accustomed to these tools.
Young people, more often than others, bought or rented home fitness equipment for the first time (about 20%), while the purchase of cooking appliances was more frequent between the age of 35 and 64.
With regard to paid streaming platforms, 18.3% of very young people started using them (more than half of 18-34-year-olds had already subscribed before); 15.9% of 45-64-year-olds who signed up for the first time during this period, approaching a new mode of use, is also noteworthy. The smallest percentage of new subscribers is expected to affect the elderly (9.3%), who, although more slowly, demonstrate a gradual approach to modern entertainment channels.
On the trips and travel front, younger people show, more than other age groups, that they have changed their habits: as many as 36.7% of 18-24-year-olds report that they have started to avoid public transport. As an alternative and encouraged by the 2020 Bonus, 13.6% of the very young population began cycling, 13.6% by electric scooter.
Finally, considering train and plane travels, many people have started to give them up, especially between the age of 18 and 44-year-olds (the most dynamic part of the population): 36.7% of 18-24 year-olds, 34.1% of 25-34-year-olds, 36.1% of 35-44-year-olds; however, the quota remains close to a third among 45-64-year-olds (32.8%) and 22.4% as from the age of 65 and over.
Habits changed for good. Over one in 4 Italians (25.9%) continues to order groceries at home even after the end of the spring lockdown, 8.7% as frequently as before, 17.2% less frequently. Home drug ordering continues for 16.4% of respondents (10.2% less frequently), while 9.8% stopped after lockdown. 37.2% of Italians continue to order meals delivery, 14.5% as often as in the lockdown period, 22.7% less often. 66.1% continue to video call friends and family, 31.5% as often, 34.6% less often than in the months of lockdown restrictions.
Only 5.6% stopped using movies and TV platforms after lockdown measures. In terms of urban mobility, 30.1% of citizens said they would continue cycling (18.1% as often as during lockdown, 12% less frequently; only 6.6% stopped). More than a tenth of the sample continues to use the electric scooter (11.8%; 6% with the same frequency; while 5.2% stopped at the end of the lockdown).
WORKING FROM HOME: A NEW WAY OF WORKING?
Before 2020 working from home was still not widespread in Italy, regulated by a law recently approved (Law 81 of 2017). This is due to a cultural resistance, but also linked to Italy’s backwardness in the field of digitalization.
A new way of working. Almost half (49%) of those working did it remotely since the beginning of the health emergency: 22.8% always or for a long period, 26.2% occasionally/on shift/for a short time. 4.9% of workers say they were already working remotely before the pandemic, while 46.1% were not.
Analysing the data from a geographical point of view different situations arise: the pandemic has led to home working especially for those living in the South (31.8% always or for a long period, 25.2% temporarily) and in the North (in the North-West 24.2% always and 28.4% temporarily; in the North-East 22.4% and 26.5%). Home working has therefore involved the majority of workers in the South and North-West, while the smallest rate is recorded in the Islands, where 12.8% already home worked and 50% did not even with the arrival of the pandemic. The rate of workers in Central Italy is intermediate: 4 out of 10 have started working in smart working (13.8% always, 27% temporarily/occasionally), 55% have not, even in emergency times.
The nature of the job consequently affects whether or not people can work remotely. With the health emergency, the majority of employees (66.2%), managers/top managers/directors (65.1%, as much as 46.3% always or for a long period), freelancers (62.4%) had the opportunity of working from home. Not insignificant figures relate to the self-employed workers (45.6%), entrepreneurs (41.8%) and law enforcement/military (37.5%). The lowest percentages are, understandingly, among manual workers (12.4%) and traders (13%). Self-employed and freelancers recorded the highest rate of home workers even before the start of the pandemic (12.6% and 10.3% respectively).
Even while home working the “office working hours model” prevails with standard working time tasks.
In most cases, home working was organised on the basis of fixed working hours (54.4%), in almost a third by objectives (30.2%), while in 15.4% of cases on the basis of an availability without fixed time limits.
A mixed presence-remote mode for the future. By questioning those who have experimented home working about their preferences for the future, it emerges that the majority, being able to choose, would like to alternate work from home and work in presence when the health emergency is over (53%); 28% would like to stop home working, while 19% would like to continue working from home.
Taking into account the family type, the data indicate that among single parents with children, the percentage of those who would like to continue home working is higher (25%); among couples with children, the rate is 20.1%, among couples without children is 18.1% and while among people living on their own it is lower (13.6%).
An overall positive experience. 66.2% of those who have home worked say they are satisfied with the work organization, 62% with regard to the working hours management. More than a half was also well coordinated with colleagues (57.5%), with supervisors (56.4%) and workload (56.2%). While positive experience prevails, however, it is important to stress out the not negligible rate of home workers facing difficulties; in particular, 18.7% say they are not at all satisfied with the coordination with their supervisors, 18.3% with the workload. Single parents with children (78.6%) and couples with children (62.7%) are the most satisfied with home working in relation to the personal and working time management.
While home working, the clear majority of workers have better managed family and domestic commitments (60%) and felt freer (58.2%). On the other hand, there were also negative feelings: 64.2% missed the company of colleagues and 53.9% say the working days were more boring. 46.5% of workers think that they were more efficient at work (in contrast, 53.5% did not) and 45.6% faced difficulties finding guidance and coordination at work.
More than a third of workers (34.9%) had practical difficulties, having inadequate/insufficient tools (PCs, smartphones, Internet connection).
Comparing the experiences of men and women while home working, men say more frequently that they felt freer (60.5% versus 55.8%), while women more often claim the working days as more boring (56.5% versus 51.4%). Among those living on their own, more people have missed their colleagues company – 68.2%, compared to 50%, in particular, for single parents with offspring – and those who have found working days more boring – 64.8%, compared to 47.2% of couples with children, 53.6% of single-parent families and 55.2% of childless couples.
Home working? Yes, especially if “IT tools equipped“. Regarding the IT tools provision, which is now indispensable for most of the jobs, the majority of the sample (52.3%) reports that they used their own (pc, smartphone, internet connection), 39.8% were provided by their employer, while 7.9% were partially provided/reimbursed by the company.
From this point of view, the results show considerable differences across Italian territory. In the “Mezzogiorno” (Southern Italy), the vast majority of remote workers used their own IT tools: 68.8% in the South and 64.4% in the Islands. The rate remains the highest in the North-West (54.5%), while it goes down to 41.2% in the Centre and 34.1% in the North-East. In the North-East and the Centre, the computer equipment is in most cases provided by the employer – in 56.1% and 52.9% respectively, compared with 24.8% in the South and 20.3% in the Islands (where 15.3% being reimbursed, even partially, from the employer). The type of employment relationship is also affecting the way of working while remote working. 78.1% of professionals with VAT have their own IT tools, as well as the majority of atypical workers (58.2%) and fixed-term employees (52.2%). Among permanent workers, cases in which IT tools are provided by the company prevail: in 45.1% of cases it provides the tools directly, in 9.8% it provides a reimbursement, even if partially.
MEDIA AND COVID-19
Infodemic or information? Italians and the media. Perhaps Italians experience a need to inquire and to be informed like never before: the insecurity due to the pandemic has generated a thirst for news and has also involved categories less interested in news and in media in general until now.
How do Italians face the flood of daily news characterized by confusing truths, fake news, theorems, hypotheses and rumours? Which media do they prefer to gather information from and form their own opinion about the health emergency? What do they think about the news coming from all the different channels?
Newscasts come first, but the future of information is online. The preferred media for information gathering about the Covid-19 health emergency are newscasts (33.8%) and online newspapers (22.3%). Printed newspapers rank third with 8.4% of preferences, immediately followed by talk shows and entertainment programs (8.3%) and social networks (8.1%), radio news rank behind them (5%), paper magazines and social chat (both at 2.8%), and influencers (1.6%).
Television news is the preferred information channel by the over-64s (48.3%) and 45-64-year-olds (31.7%), while very young people mainly use social media to get information (27.2%).
Talk shows and television in-depth news programmes are a preferential information channel especially for over-64s (10.5%), a result, coupled with the times TV News are watched on average, that makes this age group the only one mostly informed through television (58.8%); while the youngest group mainly use online channels (Social networks and online Daily News in total 62.1% between the ages of 18 and 24 years; 50.9% between 25 and 34 years).
Pandemic: Information is confusing. The quality assessment of the Covid-19 related information within all the different channels highlights its confusing aspects. The information conveyed by social networks is considered as the most confusing (40%), followed by the Government official communications, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Regions communications (36%) and finally the mass media News (28.3%). Mass media channels are also the ones most often considered capable of providing useful information (25%), followed by official communications (23.9%), but these are also the most accused of spreading alarmist news, with 22.8% preferences for this option (17.6% Social Networks and 12.7% official communications).
Institutional communication is considered the most truthful (20.1%), concerning TV, radio, etc., the percentage of those who believe that they present reliable news goes down to 9.2% and for social networks it goes down further to 4.5% and are instead more often considered overwhelming (18.5%); 14.7% of the sample share the same feeling about mass media, while 7.3% about institutional communication.
Overall, Italian people are convinced that the most useful and truthful information about Covid-19 is the one conveyed by the Institutions (a total of 44%), followed by the one from mass media (34.2%) and, lastly, the one circulating on Social Networks (23.9%).
A YEAR CHARACTERIZED BY FACE MASKS AND SOCIAL DISTANCING
The face mask is above all a protection (37.7%) and a must in this historical moment (31.7%) and is also considered useful (12.2%). However, there is also 18.4% of the negative opinions of those who think it is an imposition (6.9%), an abuse (5.8%) and something useless (5.7%). Especially the younger age groups show a certain intolerance for the use of the mask (considered a protection for only 36.1% of 18- to 24-year-olds and a need only for 29.6%). In total, one out of four young people (25.5%) express a negative opinion about the mask, identifying it as an imposition, a useless tool or an abuse.
Although the mask is certainly uncomfortable and annoying, 42% of the sample say they wear it as often as possible and 38.5% use it on all occasions when compulsory; only almost one in ten respondents try to wear it as little as possible (9.9%) and, in a similar percentage, only wear it while feeling in danger (9.6%). Although most Italians wear masks as often as they can or if required by the authorities, it is not negligible that about one out of five try to avoid their use or just use them when feeling at risk. Women seem to be more concerned about the possibility of contagion than men, stating predominantly that they wear masks as often as possible (44.8%; 39.1% for men), while men say more often to use it only when required by law (40.7% versus 36.3%).
The mask does not make us feel comfortable and put a strain on communication. What are the sensations associated with mask wearing? Most citizens (72.1%) says they don’t feel ridiculous, but less than half of respondents feel comfortable (41.6%). In 30.6% of cases wearing the mask protects against the judgment of others although the percentages of those who attribute to the mask some effect on their physical appearance are low: 22.5% feels limited in their outer appearance; 18.6% feels annoyed because it hides the aesthetic appearance and 16.4% pleased with the added intensity to the eyes. The most common discomfort is the one related to communication, with 56.5% of respondents reporting difficulties in understanding and being understood by others when they speak.
Distances and what is missing: friends in particular were missing. About 7 out of 10 Italians do not hide that they suffer from having to avoid physical contact with some of their loved ones (37.9% very much and 30.9% quite enough). 72% of respondents are missing relatives (37.9% “quite enough”, 34.2% “very much”); while a total of 27.9% said they hadn’t suffered that much (18.1%) or not at all (9.8%).
Even more than relatives, 74% of Italians missed their friends (“quite enough” 40.2% and “very much” 33.8%), while facing the challenge of achieving a smooth interpersonal interaction is less problematic (58.1%).
Pets have been an important resource for many, a company and in many cases, the opportunity to get out of the house and respondents recognize the “therapeutic” function of their pets: almost half of those with pets say that they helped in about 83% of cases feeling less lonely (“very much” 49.8% and “quite enough” 33.1%).
HEALTHCARE PERSONNEL ROLE
Sense of duty or heroism? Eurispes has also gathered Italian people’s opinions about the healthcare personnel work in the last twelve months and about the efficiency of the National Health System. 39.1% of Italians believe that doctors and nurses have just fulfilled their duty in the emergency, while the percentage of those who consider them heroes is slightly lower (37.3%); only 7.2% think that they have dealt with the emergency inadequately, but many were unable to express a judgment (16.4%). The idea that health professionals have just fulfilled their duty is more widespread among those with a higher education qualification (diploma or university degree) while the judgment of a heroic quest is prevalent among those with an elementary license or no university degree. In the North-West of the country there is a clearer belief that doctors and nurses have just fulfilled their duty (43.4%), while especially in the South there is a belief that hospital staff have been heroic (47.7%). In the Islands there is the largest number of those who think that doctors and nurses acted inadequately (13.6%).
General Practitioners: a reference for 6 out of 10 Italians. Most Italians (60.8%) turned to them for information and advice on Covid-19 and, among them, 39.9% say that their GP has been available, while about one out of five respondents (20.9%) replies that their doctor has not been available. However, many (39.2%) have chosen not to seek information and advice from their GPs. The elderly and most at-risk age groups (69.5% of over-65s) relied on the general medical staff most often. Among those who turned to the GPs, the inhabitants of the South judged them more available (42.5%), while for North-East residents GPs were less available than the others (27.1% were unavailable).
Italian judgment concerning Italian National Health System: Italian doctors are the best in the world. 66% of Italians are convinced that Italian doctors are the best in the world. 62.5% of Italians agree (41% “quite enough” and 21.5% “very much”) that Italian doctors should be more valorised and paid. For 78.5% of Italians, the health emergency has shown that it is crucial to invest more in public health than in private health. Nonetheless, the rate of those who agrees (very much and quite enough) that the pandemic has demonstrated the inadequacy of the National Health System is lower (57.6%). 73.9% agree with the idea that Italian doctors expatriate because they have more recognition and greater career opportunities abroad.
What is the Italians’ level of trust in the National Health System? 71.5% of Italian population expresses confidence in the Italian National Health System (50.4% quite enough confidence and 21.1% a lot of confidence). It is the North-East regions of the Country that express the highest approval rating in the National Health System, collecting, in total, 86.7% of positive reviews.