ECONOMYNEXT – These are the results of a survey commissioned by The Department of Transport & Logistics Management of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Moratuwa in April 2020 when Sri Lanka was under Coronvirus curfews by Amal S Kumarage, Mavin De Silva and Dr. H. Niles Perera
Results of a Survey: How Sri Lankans obtained essential items during curfew due to COVID-19 and their views on future impact on travel and online purchases
Sri Lanka was introduced to an unnamed virus on 27th January 2020 when a Chinese tourist was diagnosed as having this new virus.
Within 8 weeks, the virus named COVID-19 had begun infecting the local population and the Government was taking steps to prevent its spread in Sri Lanka. It imposed an all island curfew on 20th March 2020. Starting from 20th March, the Government encouraged Work-from-Home and allowed agricultural activities while imposing restrictions on all physical movements.
With curfew the government allowed distribution of essential items and goods transport through the issue of curfew passes. In spite of these measures people faced many hardships during this time.
This survey was commissioned by the Department of Transport & Logistics Management of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Moratuwa, on 12th April and completed on 20th April, during a period that the country was having almost curfew.
The purpose was to determine the impact that the steps taken by Government had on the life of the people and their impressions on the future. Over 1100 respondents from all parts of the country took part in the online and email survey.
As this would return an obviously biased sample, the data was normalized for across the districts and by educational profile to make the representation as accurate as possible. The analysis led to the following 12 noteworthy findings that would be useful for any future emergency or return to curfew if the need so arises.
1. Working from Home
It was found that prior to COVID-19, only 21% were allowed to work from home by their employers, this doubled to 46% during the curfew. Of this, 35% were working all 5 days or more which was a significant increase from the 8% previously. However, there was very few people who worked for less than 5 days. It appears that while some people were fully engaged working from home, others were not engaged at all.
2. Overall Impact on Households
Most households indicated that they were affected by the inability to travel, with a majority of households indicating an impact of 80% from normal or more.
On the other hand, as shown in Figure 1, the impact on household income has been more uniformly spread out with almost equal spread of the degree of impact across households. Access to essential items was also not reported to be acute with the majority indicating moderate to high impact levels.
Figure 1: Impact of curfew on access to selected needs
3. Those in Informal Employment were Most Affected?
An attempt to correlate the degree of impact on income shows a strong relationship (92% R squared) with the percentage of population engaged in informal employment.
An almost identical relationship was observed for the impact on accessing essential items indicating that those in informal employment were the worst affected in both the loss of income and in facing difficulties in accessing essentials items.
This could be due to lack of employment status and inability to get online services, credit, etc. commonly associated with informal and temporary employment.
4. What Goods were most inaccessible?
In terms of accessing essential goods during the COVID-19 related curfew, it was observed that around 2/3rd of all households experienced difficulties.
The difficulty was least for perishable goods (58%), dry goods (59%), protein (64%), medical (65%), banking services (68%) and medical services (69%), household repairs came in at 75% as being the most difficult.
Figure 2: Accessibility to goods and services during the curfew
5. Online Services
The proportion of people using online service increased in almost all sectors though recording relatively smaller gains in medical services and banking sectors as such services were already available online.
The largest gains were however in the purchase of dry goods, perishables, and medicine where the use of online services was reported as being doubled or tripled.
6. Purchase of Essential Items
It was also found that the most frequent method of purchasing perishables and proteins was from street vendors, but in all other items, visiting the outlet physically was the most frequent method of purchasing essentials.
7. Stock Levels
It was found that households on average before COVID-19, were stocking up around 3-4 days of perishables and proteins.
During the lock down this increased to around 4-5 days. In the case of dry goods this increased from 8 days to 14 days, while for medicine it increased from 13 days to 19 days.
Figure 3: Average days of stocking up for groceries before/during the COVID-19 outbreak
8. Travel to Work
Respondents agreed or strongly agreed that work related travel would be affected within the 1st month after restrictions and curfew is lifted, while they reacted as disagreed to strongly disagreed that it would have an impact after one year.
9. Social Travel
Respondents believed that visiting friends and relatives would be strongly impacted during the first month of restrictions been lifted, while there was strong disagreement that it would stay that way after one year.
10. Use of Public Transport
The highest degree of agreement was that public transport would be still affected after one month with a considerable shift in opinion by disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that it would remain the same after one year.
11. Use of Taxis and Three Wheelers
The response to the use of taxis and three wheelers was almost identical to that of public transport indicating public perception that they were equally vulnerable.
Figure 4: Respondents perception on decrease in use of taxis and three-wheelers after the curfew
12. Online Purchases
In the case of online purchases, there is less evidence that people would continue to use them one month after curfew was lifted and even less so after one year indicating that the increase is unlikely to be sustained under normal circumstances.