It came almost without any warning and radically changed our lives. Portugal is now in a second lockdown period and we are combining our forces to halt the spread of the virus, aware that economic recovery will only be possible if we first protect everyone's health.
In order to move forward, we have to understand what has already happened. In July 2020, after the first lockdown, APCOR conducted a survey of all its associates, to assess the impact of COVID 19 on the cork sector in Portugal. Its main conclusions provide a snapshot of the sector in the immediate months after the declaration of the first state of emergency.
The first finding is that, globally, the cork sector in Portugal has proven to be very resilient, with 95.6% of companies continuing to work and only three companies forced to close. According to the survey, 67.7% of companies reported normal operations, during and after the state of emergency. Nonetheless, 12.2% stated that they continue to encounter difficulties after the resumption of activity.
According to the survey, 84.6% of the companies continued full operations with all their employees. By contrast, 15.4% of the companies stated that they are not working with all employees. In these cases, medical leave was responsible for 80% of absences, and the other 20% were caused by the rotation regime.
When asked about the impact of the pandemic on their businesses, an overwhelming majority (93.8%) said that they had experienced some impact from the global context. Indeed, when asked to compare with the same period in 2019, they were quite categorical: 29.5% stated that the pandemic has had a negative impact, of 21-30%, on the business, 19.7% stated that the impact has been between 11 to 20% and 18 % stated between 41 and 50%. About 13% of the surveyed companies reported that the negative impact on the business has been higher than 50%.
There were different forecasts and expectations for the future. 80.1% believed that sales would decrease from September 2020 onwards, but 11.8% expected a positive impact, leading to higher sales.
In relation to the company support measures launched by the government, almost half of the respondents - 45.7% - stated that they had not needed to resort to any of these measures. But many companies did so. The measures most implemented by members included the “credit and interest moratoriums” (17.1%), the “business credit line” and the “simplified layoff” (both of which were used by 14.3% of companies ). Questioned about the application of the measures, the members stated that the main support problems were “complexity” (70.8%), “slow response times” (56.9%) and “insufficient amounts” (36.9%).
Although the situation could be more critical, the data indicates major uncertainty about the future. At the time that the questionnaire was carried out, only 40% of companies in the cork sector said they did not expect to need to resort to any measures in the future. Further data will be required to see whether these expectations are confirmed.