People from China, France, the UK, Portugal, Poland, and Ukraine reflect on how pandemic had affected their lives
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The lockdown “extremely affected” Adrien’s company. His superiors closed the agency on March 15, sending all employees home for an indefinite period.
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
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:
- shopping for necessities
- one form of exercise a day (running, walking, cycling – alone or with members of the household)
- any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid the risk of harm, provide care or help a vulnerable person
- 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.
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 UK has free medical services, so James says the treatment of coronavirus does not require financial costs. All costs are covered by taxpayers.
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.
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.
During quarantine, Tomasz continued to receive his full salary, so he did not encounter financial difficulties.
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.
Taxes cover the cost of treating coronavirus in Poland, Tomasz said.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.