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15 countries, 16 people: Workers share how they’re trying to get by right now

The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis that touches everyone. Countries around the world have imposed lockdowns, and a deep global recession is unavoidable. Workers on every continent are struggling to cope with the economic fallout caused by the spread of Covid-19. A harpist in Argentina wonders where her next pay check will come from. A business owner in Ghana worries about the health of her employees. A flight attendant in China struggles to pay rent. Here are their stories.

Since December, Covid-19 has spread across the globe and the number of infections continues to rise. This map shows confirmed cases, and black markers indicate the location of the 16 people you’ll be hearing from.

María Fernanda Peralta

Harpist, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Covid-19 in Argentina

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Argentina

Data note: Full coronavirus data for some smaller countries and regions is not shown on all maps. Data source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering

María Fernanda Peralta, 34, spent the past year playing music at a hotel in Abu Dhabi. But when hotel occupancy plummeted because of the coronavirus, her employer did not renew her contract and she returned home to Buenos Aires.

“It is really sad, it’s really difficult,” Peralta said. “I have never experienced anything like this and I don’t know how it is going to be from now on.”

Argentina has been on lockdown since March 20, and the government has told people only to leave their homes to buy essentials like food and medical supplies. Peralta got the last plane from Abu Dhabi to Argentina before Emirates, the largest airline in the Middle East, suspended flights.

With no income, Peralta is thinking about teaching online to make ends meet. But she also worries about the economic fallout from the pandemic in Argentina, which was already suffering from rampant inflation and a devalued currency.

Peralta on Argentina’s fragile economy

“I think it will be very difficult from now on. It will take time, a long time, to recover. We will just have to wait and hope.”

Ma Yanping, market vendor, Liaoning Province, China

Ma Yanping

Market vendor, Liaoning Province, China

Covid-19 in China

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Liaoning

Lunar New Year is usually a great time for Ma Yanping’s seafood business, but sales from the market disappeared this year as the coronavirus spread in China.

“Suddenly there were no customers visiting the market,” said Ma. “Everyone went back home and did not come out.”

In accordance with policies in her town, the agricultural markets stayed open while supermarkets closed during the epidemic. Still, at the market where she does business, at least a dozen other vendors lost their livelihoods.

“I know someone started working as a courier. Others are just unemployed now,” said Ma.

Ma, 54, is a single mother and has a daughter in college. Like every other student in the country, her daughter is stuck at home and doing her studies online.

“Suddenly there were no customers visiting the market. Everyone went back home and did not come out.”

Ma Yanping

Ma is under pressure to make 500 yuan ($70) a day to pay utilities and rent. But there are few signs yet of people returning to work in her town, and she isn’t sure when life will return to normal.

Tommy Mallen, Musician, Ireland

Tommy Mallen

Musician, Cork, Ireland

Covid-19 in Ireland

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Ireland

After graduating from university with a law degree, Tommy Mallen, 24, took a weekly slot at a pub in Cork, Ireland, playing guitar and singing, which paid €200 ($217). Picking up a few other gigs around town allowed him to pay his rent while he decided on a future career path.

“A lot of my security as a freelance performer comes from being able to draw a crowd, which means you’re at the mercy of the pubs,” he said. “There’s no safety net or benefits for a freelance gigger.”

With pubs closed, Mallen was forced to move home to Kerry, on the west coast of Ireland, and cancel his lease in a shared house. He could not afford to pay rent on the €112 a week ($122) the Irish government offers people who are looking for work.

Mallen on having to move home with his parents

“I’m just lucky to have a home to move back to. There is potential this could have put me on the street or in a hostel for a number of weeks. That’s scary to think about,” he said.

Freda Obeng-Ampofo, personal care entrepreneur, Accra, Ghana

Freda Obeng-Ampofo

Entrepreneur, Accra, Ghana

Covid-19 in Ghana

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Ghana

Freda Obeng-Ampofo, 34, is the founder of personal care brand and social enterprise Kaeme, which produces shea butter, handmade soy candles and black soap, which is made from the ash of locally harvested plants.

The company sells its products in 15 countries, but shut down operations on March 16 to protect the health and safety of its employees.

“It’s really tough because our current work is not something you could do working from home,” she said.

Obeng-Ampofo on why she’ll continue paying employees

Obeng-Ampofo has committed to paying her workers for at least two more months, should that be required.

“They’re supporting a whole bunch of people in their families. So not paying them, it trickles down and causes a lot of negative trade-offs in their lives,” she said.

Ghana’s capital, Accra, has been on lockdown since March 29, and Obeng-Ampofo said it is strange for the streets to be so quiet. She has a newborn baby to look after, so she tries not to leave the house.

“I have a family, and I don’t want to go out and get infected and then infect them,” she said. “That’s selfish, that’s not fun.”

Ilaria Rocchi, UN consultant, Genoa

Ilaria Rocchi

UN consultant, Genoa, Italy

Covid-19 in Italy

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Italy

Ilaria Rocchi, 25, works at the United Nations in New York on gender equality and women’s rights. But as the pandemic worsened, she returned to Genoa, the northern Italian city where she grew up.

“The United States has a private healthcare system, which makes things very difficult if you are not a citizen,” she said. “When the virus started to spread my health insurance was expiring, and I thought I would get better care at home if needed.”

“The US has a private healthcare system, which makes things very difficult if you are not a citizen.”

Ilaria Rocchi

Rocchi is trying to stay in contact with her colleagues in New York, but she doesn’t know when it will be possible to return to work. The United Nations pays consultants like Rocchi on a daily basis, and she’s not getting a pay check while in Italy.

“I am scared and worried because I have no clue how long this might last. Things will probably never be the same, but I try to think positively. As long as my family, loved ones and myself are well, I feel blessed and will keep on smiling.”

Manasi Deshpande, bakery owner, Pune, India

Manasi Deshpande

Bakery owner, Pune, India

Covid-19 in India

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

India

In Pune, a major city southeast of Mumbai, Manasi Deshpande, 26, designs cake sculptures that depict everything from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to characters from Frozen.

Yet her five employees have not been able to bake for weeks because cake orders have evaporated.

“It’s terrifying, really,” she said. “We have received no government assistance and I have no idea what to expect.”

On March 24, the Indian government locked down the country of 1.3 billion people. Weddings, birthdays and other events have been put on hold.

Deshpande on why the government should do more to help businesses

Two days later, the government announced an economic stimulus package worth $22.5 billion aimed at protecting low-income people. Still, Deshpande said the government isn’t doing enough to help small and medium-sized businesses.

“It is understandable that orders have been cancelled, but we still have to pay wages and rent. For now we are holding on, but if this continues for much longer, I’m not sure if my business can be sustained,” she said.

Marcus Thlomelang, Barista, Johannesburg

Marcus Thlomelang

Barista, Johannesburg, South Africa

Covid-19 in South Africa

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

South Africa

Marcus Thlomelang, 30, is a veteran barista at the Bean There coffee company in Johannesburg, which sources its beans from fair trade suppliers across Africa. He takes pride in his customers knowing him by name, but now the cafe’s doors will be closed during a strict 21-day nationwide lockdown in South Africa.

“Coffee is pretty essential for people in a city like Johannesburg,” he said with a grin. “But this is affecting us big time. The luxury lodges we supply are all completely shut down and our walk-ins won’t be able to come in.”

South Africa has suffered a major outbreak, and was among the first countries on the continent to move aggressively to combat the virus. The country’s central bank started buying government bonds on March 25 to help support the economy.

“The luxury lodges we supply are all completely shut down and our walk-ins won’t be able to come in.”

Marcus Thlomelang

“It is the right decision to shut down the country. It is right for all of our safety. We now just need to hope for the best,” Thlomelang said. “My family is checking in with me a lot. I tell them – ‘don’t panic!’ ”

In the meantime, Marcus and his fellow baristas are completing a course on Barista Hustle — an online coffee education site where even pros like him can learn more.

“This is all quite stressful, but at least I now will have time to study,” he said.

Rodrigo Contreras, Fitness entrepreneur, El Salvador

Rodrigo Contreras

Entrepreneur, San Salvador, El Salvador

Covid-19 in El Salvador

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

El Salvador

In late March, within just days of El Salvador registering its first case of coronavirus, the country’s president announced a nationwide lockdown that includes a ban on mass public gatherings, including concerts and sporting events.

“People were unhappy with the decision at first,” said Rodrigo Contreras, 31, the co-founder of a group fitness class app called Fitu that he was preparing to launch in the country as part of an expansion into Latin America.

Contreras: Businesses must evolve or die

“However it’s been a wise decision,” Contreras said of the lockdown. “It’s amazing a less developed country was able to take such strong measures.”

Still, fitness trainers cannot meet clients with studios and gyms closed, leaving them with no source of income.

“For small businesses like fitness studios, it’s a troubling time,” said Contreras. “We are trying to support both sides of the community by providing ondemand video classes and additional platforms. But a lot of these studios just have to release promotions for free and hope this passes.”

Contreras said he’s not sure how long the situation can last, explaining that “people need profits.”

Sherin Al Alami, Dubai, (38)

Sherin Al Alami

Creative director, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Covid-19 in United Arab Emirates

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

United Arab Emirates

Sherin Al Alami, 38, is the founder and creative director of La Clé, a music and artist management company that provides entertainment for events in the United Arab Emirates.

Yet the events industry has become “obsolete” in recent weeks, according to Al Alami, because of the coronavirus. She estimated her own company has had 50 events cancelled, mostly in March, which is typically the busiest month in Dubai.

“At the end of February, contracts began to be abruptly cancelled by hotels, and then it trickled over to corporate and private events,” she said. “Anything we had lined up [to] September is gone; hotels have gone into crisis mode.”

The government has announced support measures such as additional electricity subsidies and credit guarantees to small and medium-sized businesses. But most of Al Alami’s artists are freelancers who were brought out for the holiday season from abroad, and she cannot guarantee their wages without work.

“I had to turn around and send many back home to their respective countries. Our main struggle right now is not even getting events, it’s cash flow,” she said.

“The whole world is feeling this, not just me. This is what I try to tell myself when I think ‘oh my god, my company may crumble in three months.’ ”

Sherin Al Alami

Dubai is in lockdown and Al Alami is happy with how the country is handling the outbreak of the virus. She hopes that cancelled events will eventually be rescheduled.

“The whole world is feeling this, not just me. This is what I try to tell myself when I think ‘oh my god, my company may crumble in three months.’ ”

Jan Zapletal, Food Supplier, Czech Republic

Jan Zapletal

Food supplier, Zborovice, Czech Republic

Covid-19 in Czech Republic

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Czech Republic

Jan Zapletal, 33, is the owner of a business that makes and distributes food in the Czech Republic. His company is small, with 30 employees and a fleet of 10 vehicles.

Zapletal is concerned there will be much less demand in the coming weeks. His biggest customer, an auto parts supplier, has warned it could be forced to close for three weeks because the industry has ground to a halt in Europe.

“There will be a radical decrease in revenue, simply because our customers won’t be able to pay us,” he said. “It goes down the supply chain.” The government is offering billions in financial aid and loan guarantees, but Zapletal worries that might not be enough.

Zapletal senses his staff are reluctant to come to work. He has heightened health and safety procedures, procuring enough face masks and hand sanitizer for two weeks. He paid five times the normal price for the supplies.

“I’ve heard other firms in the industry have laid off workers and there is a real possibility that I might need to,” he said. “It is an issue of insufficient cash flow. It is worrying, because we are in the food industry, which is part of a critical infrastructure.”

Louise Mills, primary school teacher, Australia

Louise Mills

Teacher, Melbourne, Australia

Covid-19 in Australia

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Australia

After training as a teacher in Ireland, Louise Mills, 25, moved to Melbourne, Australia, where she works with children with special educational needs.

She works on a casual basis, which means she has the flexibility to pick up different assignments, but if she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid. Before schools closed for Easter, Mills was forced to choose between working and protecting the health of her roommate, who suffers from respiratory issues.

“If we didn’t go to work, we wouldn’t get any remuneration,” she said. “It could have been detrimental to our health, but we felt we had to.”

Mills says the government must do more to protect workers like her

Australia is spending tens of billions of dollars on income support payments, but they do not apply to freelancers or casual workers like Mills. If schools remain closed, she will not have the income to pay rent and the Irish embassy in Canberra has advised her to return home.

However, she could be stuck in a similar situation in Ireland because schools there are also closed. Mills said the Australian government could do more to protect workers like her.

“It’s ironic because the key workers in this country, in nursing, teaching, hospitality, are foreign,” she said.

Lv Fan, flight attendant, Shenzhen, China

Lv Fan

Flight attendant, Shenzhen, China

Covid-19 in China

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Guangdong

Between domestic and international flights, Lv Fan, 24, is often in the air six days a week. But in February and March, the flight attendant’s workload dropped to just 25 hours per month as the airline industry ground to a halt.

“For jobs like ours, the more you fly, the more you earn,” he said. “If you don’t fly, you’ll get paid only the local basic monthly salary.”

He is now earning only 4,000 yuan ($566) a month, a third of what he usually makes. Half of that goes to renting a dorm near the Shenzhen airport, where he now spends most of his time.

In a highly developed and expensive city like Shenzhen, the pressure of a mortgage or providing for a family can be overwhelming. Many of his colleagues are talking about trying to find other work.

“The senior employees are the ones having real troubles. Especially those that are married, have kids, and need to pay for a mortgage,” he said.

“The senior employees are the ones having real troubles. Especially those that are married, have kids, and need to pay for a mortgage.”

Lv Fan

With international flights still not on the schedule, returning to a normal working rhythm is difficult for airline workers. But more and more domestic flights are resuming.

“We are trying to stay positive,” he said.

Brenda Mundaca

Brenda Mundaca

Medical administrator, Denver, United States

Covid-19 in USA

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Colorado

Brenda Mundaca, 33, is still getting used to working from the basement of her home near Denver, Colorado. A hospital administrator specializing in dialysis, her job involves contacting patients to discuss their treatments. Now she juggles her work duties and the needs of her eight-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son.

“A lot of people are going crazy with kids. Once mine are up, it’s hectic,” she said. “There [are] things the little one can do on her own, but a lot of the time she needs help. And she will always want to play.”

Mundaca on how she works from home with kids

With more people working from home, internet speeds have dramatically slowed in some areas. That means constant issues for Mundaca when uploading homework or patient files. Even more difficult has been explaining to her younger child what the coronavirus is and why she must stay indoors.

“She does understand the virus is something new and that people are dying. However, it is hard on her. Cousins and friends cannot come over to the house and she misses her soccer practices,” said Mundaca.

Mundaca’s husband is a construction worker, but has not been visiting clients for the past few weeks for fear of infecting them.

“We are losing wages, but for the time being, we should be fine. We want to keep his clients healthy, a lot of them are older. If this goes on for the entire month of April, maybe until June, it will be difficult,” she said.

Kim Eun-hee, club owner, Seoul

Kim Eun-hee

Club owner, Seoul, South Korea

Covid-19 in South Korea

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

South Korea

Myoung Wol Gwan, one of Seoul’s oldest nightclubs, was closed for a month when South Korea went into lockdown but was able to reopen on March 20.

Kim Eun-hee, 46, owns the famous nightclub and estimates that it has lost 90% of its customers due to coronavirus.

“It’s miserable. The club is in [a] shambles,” said Kim.

Kim had closed the club in the middle of February, following the government’s social distancing recommendations. The country tested widely, isolated cases quickly and quarantined suspected carriers, allowing for a speedy recovery.

“Income is almost at zero. I’ve been working second and third jobs like day laboring.”

Kim Eun-hee

Now that Myoung Wol Gwan has reopened, Kim said the club is implementing extensive disease prevention measures which include checking for fevers. The club is also providing hand sanitizer to patrons. Numbers are still down however, and Kim is struggling with the finances.

“Income is almost at zero. I’ve been working second and third jobs like day laboring,” said Kim.

Andrew Parkinson, CEO Plymouth Argyle, UK

Andrew Parkinson

CEO, Plymouth, United Kingdom

Covid-19 in UK

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

UK

Andrew Parkinson, 57, is chief executive of English football club Plymouth Argyle. Appointed a year ago, he’s grappling with a major loss of revenue from ticket sales after the coronavirus pandemic brought the sports world to a sudden halt.

Parkinson: ‘It’s not just a game, it’s a community’

Plymouth Argyle employs 350 people in roles from catering to maintenance, and those who cannot work from home will be furloughed. The UK government stimulus package includes money for furloughed workers, who can receive 80% of their wages, up to a monthly cap of £2,500 ($3,085). Plymouth’s staff are drawing on this support, but the board is ensuring they receive their full salary by making up the difference.

“My job has been difficult, but we are taking collective responsibility,” said Parkinson.

Plymouth Argyle has launched a crowdfunding campaign and started selling some ticket packages for next season. The club’s stadium is also being used by the UK National Health Service during the pandemic.

“The absence of football has really underlined just how important it is to the community,” Parkinson said. “They are social gatherings of 18,000 people every weekend, it is missed.”

Graham Carter, real estate developer, Vancouver (39)

Graham Carter

Real estate developer, Vancouver, Canada

Covid-19 in Canada

Confirmed cases: 0

Deaths: 0

Canada

Graham Carter is a director of a small development company in Vancouver that was due to begin construction on 17 townhouses in May. However, Carter anticipates the company will have to postpone the project because of supply chain issues and rising prices for construction materials.

“The big unknown for us is how long this will go on for,” he said. “The Bank of Canada is dropping interest rates, but developers who overpaid for land, or who don’t have enough cash reserves, may find this situation challenging to overcome.”

Home sales in Canada are expected to dive nearly 30% this year according to a Royal Bank of Canada analysis. The government has promised a $57 billion aid package for workers and businesses struggling because of the coronavirus.

Graham expects the pandemic will force a “paradigm shift” on the industry. Businesses will have to embrace digital solutions such as virtual tours and video calls to interact with potential homebuyers.

“We are taking a long term view and are able to pivot to more virtual or high-tech solutions in these uncertain times,” he said.

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