Working during pandemic: how coronavirus affects people worldwide

People from China, France, the UK, Portugal, Poland, and Ukraine reflect on how pandemic had affected their lives

How coronavirus pandemic affects people worldwide

How coronavirus pandemic affects people worldwide. Source: pixabay.com

Starting in late January, countries around the world began to introduce restrictive measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. As a result of nationwide quarantines, many people shifted to remote work, faced salary cuts, or were put on unpaid leave. PaySpace Magazine asked residents of China, France, the UK, Portugal, Poland, and Ukraine about how quarantine affected their daily lives: work, income, and expenses.

How coronavirus pandemic affects people worldwide

China

How coronavirus pandemic affects people worldwide

China during the lockdown. Source: Go-tea, flickr.com

Natalia is a Ukrainian who has been living in China for 7 years. Initially, she worked in the service industry, as a dancer and model, simultaneously improving her photo and video skills. Later, she applied the knowledge she gained to promote her family business, an online hip hop clothing store. Natalia now lives with her husband in Chengdu, the capital of the Chinese province Sichuan.

According to Natalia, the lockdown appeared “quite smoothly” to her and her husband’s lives. The introduction of restrictive measures coincided with the weekend in honor of the Chinese New Year. Before the holiday, most Chinese small and medium-sized businesses pause operations. All employees go home to celebrate New Year with their families.

We were ready for this. The Chinese New Year is about three weeks of "complete silence": all shops are closed, marketplaces such as Taobao are inactive - everyone is resting and no one really works. The lockdown coincided with the New Year holidays: people went home, setting aside money for a long weekend. If not for the lockdown, most small businesses would have stayed at home anyway.

China was the first country to introduce restrictive measures to stop the spread of coronavirus disease. On January 23, the first outbreaks of the disease were recorded in Wuhan, and the city was quarantined. Six days later, all districts adjacent to the city announced the same restrictions. Authorities later quarantined the whole country. According to Natalia, the news about the spread of the virus seriously scared her family.

In the beginning, we were sitting at home, didn’t go anywhere and didn’t meet with anyone, we were even afraid to go to the store. We were trying to save our masks, and bought antiviral drugs. The first grocery trip looked like a military operation: masks, gloves, sanitizers, constantly casting glances at others, checking if anyone nearby is sneezing or coughing. As a result, we bought a bunch of goods, including unnecessary ones. After that we went out to the store once every two days to replenish supplies. Every time we disinfected everything: from clothes to food

As Natalia noted, most of her family’s expenses remained unchanged: rent, food, necessary goods for business. At the same time, they reduced expenses on cafes, restaurants, parties, and trips. Regarding the cost of COVID-19 treatment in China, Natalia said that foreigners pay for the treatment if their medical insurance doesn’t cover it. Referring to the experience of Guangdong, she said that insurance companies and the state cover the cost of treatment for Chinese people. Citizens without insurance pay for treatment themselves. However, people who cannot afford it will still receive help in accordance with local laws and regulations.

How coronavirus pandemic affects people worldwide

Photo provided by the respondent

Contrary to Natalia’s fears, the quarantine didn’t harm their business. People continued to buy clothes and the money received was enough to pay for rent and other needs. Some of her friends, also engaged in e-commerce, had even increased sales during the pandemic. “People sitting at home obviously get bored, they have nothing to spend on, so they started buying things”.

During quarantine, the couple worked daily on updating the goods available in their online store. They photographed new clothes, added descriptions to the items, and posted them on the Internet. At the end of March, with the first quarantine concessions, Natalia and her husband decided to expand the business. They hired two new employees. Nevertheless, Natalia treats forecasts about the further development of the store with caution, referring to the uncertainty of the economic situation in China and the world. Natalia’s dream is to go international with sales.

France

France during the pandemic. Photo by rvjak, flickr.com

Adrien is working in the car rental industry. He is the deputy head of an agency in Paris which rents minibusses and vans to business companies and tourists.

Starting March 14, all the bars/clubs/restaurants closed. The authorities introduced the full lockdown on March 17, with all non-essentials movement strictly forbidden. According to Adrien, citizens can go out only under such circumstances:

  • work purposes, if the job can’t be done at home (WFM)
  • buying essential products
  • medical needs
  • exercise (like walking or running) but only 1 hour per day and within a radius of 1 km from one’s household
If we go out for these reasons, we always have to carry an 'official paper' given by the authorities which explains why we’re out. If we don’t have this paper or if we are not in order, we will receive a €135 fine by the police as a way to control the population. But there are not so many police measures and in my opinion it is not very strict as some people are faking the papers, others are going to shop several times a day to buy useless stuff and some others are just walking around for hours. Also the fine is not very expensive, especially if you compare to others countries such as Austria, Norway or Italy

The lockdown “extremely affected” Adrien’s company. His superiors closed the agency on March 15, sending all employees home for an indefinite period.

All employees are not working at all until further notice. Luckily, the French Government made some important economic policies and are giving money to most of the companies which had to stop their business during the lockdown. All my colleagues and I are paid 84% of our usual salary by the French government, which is actually really cool. Without this economic policy, our company would probably already be dead and everybody would be unemployed

Photo provided by the respondent

Although Adrien now receives an incomplete salary, he manages to save money due to the lack of spending on parties, bars, restaurants, gigs, taxis and traveling. Besides, he said that the French government covers 100% of the cost of treating coronavirus.

Since Adrian is currently on paid vacation, his usual day is as follows: getting up at 9-10 am, relaxing on the terrace, doing sports/running, housekeeping, cooking, phoning with bosses and colleagues, work calls with bosses/colleagues, drinking on FaceTime with some friends, movies, making travel plans for 2021. He clarifies that the biggest difficulty he’s facing during lockdown is the solitude.

The United Kingdom

Social distancing in the UK parliament. Source: UK Parliament

James works as a recruiter for a British healthcare company. His job is to find recruitment professionals in both medical and social care sectors from entry-level positions such as support workers through to directors of care companies.

The UK introduced quarantine on March 23 with the following restrictive measures:

  • introducing social distancing and a ban on public meetings and events of more than two people
  • closing of public institutions and stores that do not sell essential goods
  • closing of attractions and amusement parks for visitors. Regular parks are open except for playgrounds

During the quarantine period, citizens can leave their house for such limited reasons:

  1. shopping for necessities
  2. one form of exercise a day (running, walking, cycling – alone or with members of the household)
  3. any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid the risk of harm, provide care or help a vulnerable person
  4. traveling for work purposes, but only when one can’t work from home

At the same time, public transport, including the metro, continues to work, but with reduced schedules. Supermarkets and pharmacies began to let a limited number of visitors shop. For example, some drugstores let no more than two people at a time. Some retail chains even do not allow couples to enter their stores together. People can only shop one by one unless with children. London City Airport suspended operations at least until May. Manchester Airport and Gatwick continue to operate, but with fewer available terminals. On April 16, the country extended the quarantine for another three weeks.

According to James, the United Kingdom introduced lockdown much later than many other European countries. Because of that, many Brits criticized the actions of the government. “For example, while the police could stop you on the street in France, theme parks and other places of entertainment were opened in Britain”.

Prior to quarantine, James’ company discussed with employees the possibility of remote work and its need. According to James, after the announcement of the lockdown, the shifting to remote work was simple.

Fortunately, my job only needs a phone and an Internet connection so it’s easy to work anywhere, when the lockdown announcement happened we immediately started working from home prior to the 23rd and it was an easy transition. Working in the healthcare sector I am considered a key worker which means I can still go to my office if I choose, however the majority of my company has been put on furlough and aren’t allowed to work until the government says they can go back to work. I’m still paid as usual although my bonus is being held to keep liquidity in the business, when things return to normal my bonus will be paid to me along with however many months worth of bonus I’m owed. As of yet there have been no redundancies in my company due to coronavirus as far as I know but from a company of around 250 there’s only 10 people actually working

James mentioned the 240 employees at the company who currently aren’t working. They are all on the furlough scheme and receive 80% of their salary from the state or £2,500 a month if 80% of their salary is above that figure.

The biggest challenge in a recruitment environment is that it affects gaining new business, potential clients aren’t as open to taking on new partners, that being said there is still opportunity. We’ve also had to overcome how to interview people and get people prepared for work. Using web meetings etc to stay in contact. These are a lot of the general challenges for firms that are still working at this time, particularly in a sales environment. As morbid as it is to say, the virus has proven to be great for our business, although we might have struggled to get more new clients, our existing clients are desperate and are providing us with a huge amount of work

The UK has free medical services, so James says the treatment of coronavirus does not require financial costs. All costs are covered by taxpayers.

It costs nothing to be treated in the UK for the coronavirus. We have free public health care and although I do 'pay' for it via taxes, if I was homeless and had no money I’d still be entitled to the same level of care at no cost

Poland

A man walking his dog during the Polish lockdown. Photo by Seb Holcer, flickr.com

Tomasz is a researcher at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. He is currently involved in some research work about the coronavirus.

The Polish government began to impose lockdown restrictions on March 10, closing schools and universities. Already on March 13, the state declared a state of the epidemic due to the spread of coronavirus. According to Tomasz, in the early days, shops, hairdressers, cinemas, public transport, and shopping centers continued to operate in Poland. If possible, the government recommends citizens to work from home, though giving no direct instructions. However, with each passing day, the restrictions became more stringent. It includes social distancing, a ban on public gatherings of more than two people (weddings, funerals, religious gatherings – up to 5 people). In public transport, the max passenger number is half of the number of seats in the vehicle.

The university has closed student classes and switched to remote lectures, wherever possible, but my activities as a researcher have stayed more or less the same. My current boss is very involved in the everyday operations of our institution, and she strictly follows the implemented measures and regulations. We are encouraged to stay at home as much as possible. Disinfectant is available just at the entrance to the building and obligatory for whoever enters. We were encouraged to use our paid leave initially, but after a few days it was clear that this does not make much sense. Now we're keeping essential lab work and doing stay at home office work as much as possible

One week after the lockdown started, Tomasz had to isolate himself for a week at home. One of his colleagues was tested positive for COVID-19.

As I was in contact with him, I was put on the formal quarantine for a week. This forbade me from any lab/office work, I could only leave my apartment to visit the balcony during that time. Police were checking on me every day. When they appeared on the third day, I was told to use an app allowing me to report my location with cell phone GPS. After quarantine, I was going to work more or less normally. Only in the last week I switched more to the home office, but I have to admit, I am not too efficient. Usually no more than 3 hours per day are devoted to actual focused work, which is more or less half of what happens at the university. At the same time I am coordinating a research of few people, and as my employees/coworkers are skilled and experienced, they do fine without my constant involvement

Photo by Karolina Luczkowska

During quarantine, Tomasz continued to receive his full salary, so he did not encounter financial difficulties.

I have to admit, I was extremely lucky. As I work at the state university, no pay cuts were introduced so far and I am not affected by the lockdown financially. As my salary is not affected (yet), nothing has changed much. I spend less money for unnecessary stuff and focus more on the necessities, so no stupid spendings! At the same time, I clearly drink more wine nowadays

According to Tomash, quarantine allowed him to expand the scope of activities through cooperation with other researchers. Among the main difficulties of remote working, he called a decrease in productivity and a problem with work management.

I’m definitely not as efficient. On the other hand, my perspective changed a bit and I got involved in collaboration with other researchers to more of an extent than before. I think that the lockdown provided a more relaxed and broader perspective allowing me to expand into regions that are just beyond my everyday scope. The difficulties involve some problems with people/project management. Not all projects can be prioritized at the moment, meaning they are not continuing currently, however the financing for them will run out eventually. This leaves me an alternative, either to freeze the project (which means no payment for the people), or continue with the project without doing much (which endangers the project completion). For the time being I went with the second option, keeping the employees paid, but this might change in a month. People management is difficult as well. The crew got bored with the lockdown and they are eager to go back to work. As workplace distancing is required nowadays, this results in work shifts to keep a limited number of people in the lab at all times. It also invites conflicts about available spots, timing issues etc.

Taxes cover the cost of treating coronavirus in Poland, Tomasz said.

As we have fully implemented healthcare system with nearly everyone insured, the cost is not that much of an issue. The bigger problem is capacity of the healthcare itself - how many patients can be effectively treated at the same time. Apparently Poland is doing a reasonably decent job (although protective equipment is scarce and diagnostic testing is lacking compared to other EU countries), but as of yet the system is not overloaded to an extent anywhere near Italy, Spain or even France. My personal perspective is that Poland (as much as UA) remembers Chernobyl disaster and all the social distancing was well executed and respected. Cities became empty form day-to-day. Now it is getting a bit too relaxed, as people are getting tired, but then policies and penalties are more profound as well. I hope we can keep these policies in place for at least few weeks more

Portugal

Local Portuguese man on an abandoned street. Photo by Bac Son Group, flickr.com

After 12 years of work in the telecommunications industry, Diogo left his company to devote himself completely to his favorite occupation – music and journalism. In early 2019, he and his friend launched Metal Hammer in Portugal, a metal music magazine that operates under the franchise of the original British zine. Diogo works as an editor-in-chief of the Portugal edition.

Initially, Portugal introduced the lockdown from mid-March to early April. Then the government extended it for a few more weeks. According to Diogo, the restrictive measures in Portugal did not differ much from other countries. At first, the bars and other public places stopped working, then the small businesses. Some employees switched to remote work, and some of them lost their jobs. Then the government closed its borders with Spain, allowing crossing the border only for export/import purposes. Diogo says the Portuguese government “reacted swiftly” to the spread of COVID-19 compared to Spain, Italy, France, and the UK.

We didn’t wait for big numbers, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons we haven’t 100,000 cases and 20,000 deaths. The majority of the population is respecting this. The government, alongside the banks, is also trying to ease people’s lives with new laws that will protect a part of our salaries and loans

pandemic people

Photo provided by the respondent

Since Diogo works from home, the introduction of lockdown did not greatly affect his editorial work. Even before the pandemic, he conducted many interviews with musicians by phone or Skype. Diogo said that during quarantine, he was able to increase his savings. His expenses for parties or regular dinners with friends eliminated. The spending is now minimal: food, taxes, mobile phone, and the Internet. Nevertheless, he is preparing for a decline in income, as the pandemic hit the music industry hard.

Without festivals and small gigs, the labels and the bands that work with us don’t want to go along with our marketing plans. We have a huge presence in festivals with our CD compilations and bands find it to be extremely good for them in order to get their songs distributed by the thousands, so without concerts this just doesn't happen at all. It’s normal and we respect their decision, so we must find solutions, which we will do! We’re working on new solutions every day and our clients are starting to get on the same train with us. Let’s hope for the best even without festivals, which is a reality

Diogo’s mother, the owner of a small hairdresser, suffered most from the pandemic. She had to close her business. The government is developing programs to support small enterprises, so Diogo’s mother expects to be able to return to work soon.

Regarding the cost of treating coronavirus in Portugal, Diogo said that the country’s health care is free.  Taxes cover all expenses. If desired, citizens can go to private clinics, but their services cost “huge amounts of money”.

Ukraine

pandemic people

The President of Ukraine wears a mask to avoid contagion. Source: flickr.com

Tamara works as a history teacher and a form mistress at a gymnasium in Kyiv. The country closed all educational institutions on March 16, so teachers were the first to feel lockdown restrictions.

According to Tamara, after the introduction of quarantine, the gymnasium underwent complete disinfection and is closed now even for stuff. The teachers have to educate children from home, using Viber, Skype, and video lessons broadcasted on TV. She says that now the workload has doubled.

My usual day starts with breakfast. Then I begin checking the students' work and/or their answers to the tasks which they send me by email. After checking them, I send kids my grades with comments, explaining what they need to work on and what to learn (previously, all comments on reworks were spoken out loud). Then I watch a video lesson on TV, about a topic then I give tasks to kids. After that I have individual lessons with students who are preparing for external independent evaluation (EIE)

To communicate with students, Tamara created separate groups in Viber for each class. There she puts tasks, the answers to which students then send to her email address. This is how all teachers of her school currently work: from mathematicians to teachers of labor and physical education. The latter conduct video tutorials for children via Skype or Zoom.

According to Tamara, she and her colleagues from the gymnasium and other schools in Kyiv receive a full salary. “Despite staying at home, I’m checking 30-40 pieces of work a day.” The technical staff of her gymnasium receives half the rate. In other schools, some teachers went on labor union leave with the National Union of Teachers paying their salaries. During the lockdown, Tamara spends less, as there is no spending on transport, cafes, and entertainment. The main expenses now are food.

The gymnasium, where Tamara works, has paid tuition (250 UAH appr. $9). All the money goes to the board of trustees. However, now none of the parents are paying anything.

When the lockdown started, no one thought about this. The payment issues are handled by the gymnasium council, which features one representative from the parent council from each class. But now no one will get together and decide anything

Teachers will fill out and execute all documentation, in particular class registers, after the lockdown. The authorities canceled the state final certification for 4th and 9th-grade students in schools. Still, they left EIE for 11th grades, which will be most likely postponed until July. After finishing studying, the students will receive online report cards. The “last bells” and proms are not recommended. In September, schools will hold knowledge assessments. Officials will adjust the education program to repeat the topics of the previous year. How exactly it will be changed – each educational institution will decide independently.

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