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What it's like to work in a place starting to reopen its economy after quarantine

Stephanie Kinch
An example of a socially distanced drop-off in Denmark.
Photo by Stephanie Kinch

My family lives in Denmark, and since mid-March, we've been staying home to reduce the spread of Covid-19. My 12 years of work-from-home experience generally served me well, and my husband and I split our time between our jobs and making sure that our kids were staying engaged with their teachers online.

We did our best to make it work. Now, the country is beginning to open up again.

As of April 16, Denmark hit a key benchmark. There had been more than two weeks of a consistent decline of hospitalizations, which meant things could open again, with some key differences. So after six weeks of lockdown, my three kids went back to school.

Here's what it's like to work during this new normal.

Working parents have (some) child care again

Before my kids, who are 4, 6, and 10, headed back into their classrooms, the health ministry sent out kid-friendly videos to tell them how things would be different in school:

  • Smaller classes of 10 students or less
  • Classrooms would have 2 meters between desks
  • Increased cleaning of shared surfaces and bathrooms
  • Each class would have its own designated outdoor area, and there would be no mingling between classes 
  • The kids would practice social distancing when they stood in line for pick-up and drop-off
  • For most schools, the school day would end after lunch. After-school care would be limited to the parents who need it most
  • Everyone would be washing and sanitizing their hands at least once every two hours

As I waited in the drop-off line for my daughter's kindergarten class on her first day back, I watched as she ran over to greet her teacher with a "footshake."

When I picked her up four hours later, she reported a school day that consisted of math, Danish, lots of outside play, and "distance games," where they learned how to play and have fun while six feet away from each other. In those four hours, she also washed her hands five times.

"It was fun. Different, but fun," she said.

My husband and I have settled into new work routines, too, as we continue to work from home while having children in half-day care. This means we're picking up the kids from school at noon and then plopping them in front of the TV or an iPad for a couple of hours while we finish up our work. It's not an ideal solution but it helps keep things on track.

Mainly, we're grateful that Denmark has a strong public support system that has remained in place during the pandemic. Private day-care centers here are rare: Almost all children over two attend full-time public institutions. These institutions have offered emergency care for all children whose parents are unable to work from home. My 4-year-old isn't in school yet and the fee for his day care, which includes meals, is about $350 per month.

After-school care, which is an integrated part of the school system, continues to be available for those who need it, including discounts for lower income families and parents who are students. For my two daughters, who are 6 and 10, we pay about $175 a month for before- and after-school care.

Our careers have been affected, but government support helps

Starting the week of March 20, when Denmark began staying home, the Danish government made the decision to effectively freeze the country's economy for three months.

Some of the government support measures included a payment of up to 75% of private employees' salaries for three months to avoid mass layoffs, a $2.5 trillion stimulus package that amounts to 13% of the national economy, a support package for small businesses and self-employed people, extended time for those already on unemployment, and a postponement of company tax payments

My friends who work in tourism and the restaurant industry have been affected. But with the government's support package, their employers have been able to continue to pay them and keep them employed for the time being. 

Life as a freelancer is more uncertain now for me, too. Some clients have asked for discounts, while others have disappeared entirely. Luckily, most of my work is with essential services, which haven't been hit as hard as consumer goods.

VIDEO4:4104:41
How to make a face mask using stuff around your home

Video by Jason Armesto 

How we've adjusted our spending

I am continuing to keep a close watch over my budget. Big projects like our kitchen remodel have been put on hold for the time being, and we have paused our search for a new car.

We've shifted around some of our discretionary spending so as to align better with our priorities right now. Large gatherings at concerts and festivals are banned until at least September, and restaurants remain closed. Since our entertainment budget, which was typically devoted to things like movies, dining out and family outings to amusement parks, isn't being used, we've been putting that money toward supporting local businesses and buying Danish goods as much as possible, even if it means paying a little more for them.

Fortunately, grocery stores are still stocked, local restaurants are offering take out, and neighbors are helping neighbors. 

There's lots of ongoing discussion about how to keep our economy afloat and protect our most vulnerable. Our systems are being put to the test now, but so far, things have been moving in the right direction. As Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in April: "If we stand still along the way, we could fall. And if we go too fast, it can go wrong. Therefore, we must take one cautious step at a time."

Stephanie Bergeron Kinch is a freelance journalist based in Copenhagen, Denmark. For more information about her work, visit www.pearlcity.dk.

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