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This week, an estimated 500,000 Canadians have applied for employment insurance due to the coronavirus. Here’s a cross-section of some of the workers who’ve been affected

Joe Lumley.Courtesy of family

Joe Lumley, 41 | Manufacturing worker (Novar, Ont.)

Mr. Lumley’s employer is laying him off for two weeks without pay starting at the end of March, owing to worsening demand. The company plans to bring him back if economic conditions allow.

“I’m just not the guy who’s going to sit on his couch and collect EI, you know? I’m going to try to find different avenues to obtain income. I was laid off for two years in the last recession, and I swam. I worked my butt off. I don’t know if you’ve ever been a well driller’s greenhorn – I did that. It ain’t no easy job. I got a two-year-old, and I got more to think about than myself. If I can find a cash job for 16 bucks an hour, why wouldn’t I take it? I’m fairly tight with my money. I’m going to phone my insurance company Monday and ask, what’s the best deal we can get? I’ll go down the list like that, until I’ve shaved everywhere I can.”

Paul Thompson.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Paul Thompson, 47 | Mechanic (Montreal)

Mr. Thompson hasn’t lost his auto-shop job yet, but he’s bracing himself just in case.

“Everyone is worried about losing their job at a time like this. It’s the uncertainty – the things we do

n’t know about and that we have to worry about. Family is a lot more important than anything material, but still, we’ve got bills to pay, food to buy. Nobody wants to be on the street – it’s a good thing summer’s coming, so it’s not freezing out right now. As for my job, I’m pretty sure being a mechanic is one of the things that will always be around. But the thought of starting over from scratch and not knowing where you’re going is making me nervous.”

Molly Kuzyk.TODD KOROL/The Globe and Mail

Molly Kuzyk, 46 | WestJet flight attendant (Calgary)

Ms. Kuzyk, a single mom of Max, 4, got back to flying a year ago after recovering from breast cancer. Now, with WestJet laying off up to half its flight attendants, she’s hoping her 18 years at the airline help her hold onto her job.

“I want to go to work. Obviously I don’t want to get the virus. But I want to make hay while the sun shines. For me, going back to work is still my new normal. I missed it so much going through all the stuff I went through the past few years. I just feel like things change, and people have to change. Going through cancer doesn’t take away the sickness you feel in your stomach. But it makes you realize you can’t control everything and that you have to focus on what’s right in front of you and how to get around it the best you can.”

Grace Onasanya.Courtesy of family

Grace Onasanya | Cook (Toronto)

Ms. Osananya was laid off last week after a slow February, and on Monday, the restaurant closed temporarily, as did almost every other establishment in the city, leaving her with few job options.

“SARS hit the service industry really hard. It took years for it to recover. This is 10 times worse than that. One of my concerns is whether there will be an industry for me to go back to. This is already my second career. I left my nine-to-five cubicle job, went back to school and lived off my savings. I also had a fiancé who passed away in 2018. It was devastating. My world turned upside down. Money-wise, too – I had to go into debt to keep myself on my feet. I worked 60, 70 hours a week to get out of debt. But a lot of restaurant workers live paycheque to paycheque. Rents here are awful, and I can’t afford to move. I know people are getting mortgage breaks, but what about the renters?”

Janelle Wimperis.Courtesy of family

Janelle Wimperis, 35 | Daycare operator (Calgary)

Ms. Wimperis and her husband, Don, started the Right Start Daycare, last year; on Monday, it was ordered to close, forcing them to temporarily lay off 14 workers.

“It’s not easy to tell people that we don’t have work for them indefinitely. And it wasn’t fun for us to have to communicate that to the families, either, because people use our service for a reason – even if they’re able to work from home, you can’t really do that efficiently with young children. At least this is a common situation we’re all in, so people have more empathy and understanding.”

Hans Obas.Courtesy of family

Hans Obas, 38 | Commercial airline pilot (Montreal)

Mr. Obas was still working as of Thursday, though his employer, Air Transat, announced this week it would gradually suspend flights. He’s also the co-ordinator of civil aviation at the University of Montreal.

“So far, things haven’t changed for me. Is it coming? It’s possible. Sunwing is doing layoffs. Porter Airlines is doing layoffs. Things have changed for a lot of other people. I’m trying to live my life day to day and not speculate on things I can’t control. I’ve always been someone who’s meticulous and prepared to face adversity. But right now, the question is, what is this adversity exactly and how long will it last? I have no idea.”

Rachel Iwaasa.Courtesy of family

Rachel Iwaasa | Musician and co-founder of the Queer Arts Festival (Vancouver)

Ms. Iwaasa, a pianist, is scheduled to record an album at the Banff Centre in early April. She lives with and is the sole caregiver for her 90-year-old mother.

“Like most musicians, my income is cobbled together. I teach piano, and all my students cancelled at once. My performances have been cancelled, too. I’m lucky the Queer Arts Festival has committed to paying staff in full for as long as it can. So I’m not hurting the way some of my peers are. But my mental health isn’t great. My mum has early-stage dementia, and I’m worried about what the isolation is doing to her. That’s been the hardest part of all of this: having to face that this is probably the way that she is going to die. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But more than likely.”

Grace Richards.Courtesy of family

Grace Richards, 55 | Heavy equipment operator (Conklin, Alta.)

Ms. Richards has been running graders, bulldozers and backhoes in the oil sands for more than two decades. Most recently, she’s helping build a badly needed water and sewer system for her home community. Construction was set to restart in May.

“I’m used to making good money, but now I’ve been trying to call about my employment insurance. I’ve been trying to call my bank about my vehicle payment. I’ve been trying to call my insurance company, and I can’t get through to anybody. I’m kind of getting anxiety over this. I believe a lot of people will go back to the old ways. For a lot of us in Indigenous communities, a lot of them are going out and hunting to provide for people in their communities. And they’re waiting for the snow to start to melt, so we can go out and pick our medicinal plants.”

Joel Martell.Courtesy of family

Joel Martell | Barbershop owner (Halifax)

Mr. Martell decided to close his shop on Monday, before such businesses were mandated to shut down. Now he and his four employees are out of work.

“It’s me, my puggle and my partner – he works in IT, so he’s very busy working from home. In barbering, if you don’t cut hair, you don’t make money. Everything is commission-based. The tricky part is your rent as a small business and all the bills you’re paying, even if you’re not operating. Without any hope of opening again soon, after a month is when things will get scary for me. I’m still going in every day. We have an apprentice, and his school’s been cancelled, so I have a lot of free time to train him. I’m cleaning every day. I’m making sure that when we open back up, everything will look brand new.​”

Simone Orlando.Courtesy of family

Simone Orlando | Artistic director, Ballet Kelowna (Kelowna, B.C.)

The former ballerina took over in 2014 and brought the company back from the brink of death. It was in the midst of creating its first full-length commissioned work, Macbeth, when rehearsals were suspended Monday.

“The likelihood of us being able to perform this work publicly – it’s probably not going to happen. We’ve looked at five different scenarios of how we can keep our doors open, but it’s going to take government support and support from our community. Our board, our staff, our dancers – we’ve worked so hard to develop some national and international recognition. I’ve doubled our revenue, and things have been looking so positive. I’ll do everything I can to get us through this, which might mean volunteering my time so we can keep going. Maybe it is going to beat us, but I’m going to put up a really big fight.”

Maddie Rollins.Courtesy of family

Maddie Rollins, 24 | Line cook (Toronto)

On Monday, Ms. Rollins’s boss texted to say she’d been laid off. Her family, with whom she lives, is now in self-quarantine after returning from an overseas holiday.

“I’m running out of groceries to feed my brother. I’ve been borrowing money from everyone to stay afloat. At work, we were just all talking about how long this would last and how we’re going to pick up business once this blows over, because it’s going to be devastating. The service industry is already a very difficult occupation to work in, mentally and physically, and we already struggle to get by.”

Vincent Lavoie.Courtesy of family

Vincent Lavoie, 27 | Acrobat and circus performer (Drummondville, Que.)

Mr. Lavoie was working on Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria show in Houston when he got word the entertainment company would suspend its North American shows. He flew back to his parents’ home, where he’s now in self-isolation.

“All the artists are trying to stay active and healthy, whether it’s going outside to run or doing an at-home workout. I’m going up and down the staircase. I’m on the elliptical. I’ve got my mom’s little weights – five- and seven-pounders – and I’m trying to get creative to get my muscles to work. It’s definitely a mental game, too, but most of our artists come from sort of high-level competition, so we have that strength in our wheelhouse – to look at the situation and head straight to something that’s productive, rather than dwelling on our misfortune.”

Jordan Canning.Courtesy of family

Jordan Canning | Film and TV director (Toronto)

Ms. Canning spent seven weeks in Vancouver shooting a new show for Global TV. With four days left on the shoot, it shut down on Monday, and other projects are on hold. Plus, most people in her line of work don’t qualify for EI

“I thought I knew exactly what I was doing until mid-August, and now all of that is thrown into question. My boyfriend is a film and TV writer and standup comedian. He had a bunch of shows cancelled. Are we going to have to plan for neither of us working for the rest of the year? We have savings we can rely on for a while, but rent is not cheap. Working in the film industry can be quite gruelling. I work straight 16-hour days. But it’s feast or famine. It’s not only the money I might lose this year: my savings are in investments, which are taking a hit. What was all this hard work for?”

Geneviève Farley-Tremblay, 32 | Tattoo artist (Montreal)

Ms. Farley-Tremblay and her two partners decided to close their tattoo shop, Studio Équinoxe, this week for everyone’s safety.

“The thing about creating tattoos is you have a lot of close contact with people. There’s blood. Tattoos also trigger the immune system temporarily. Closing just seemed like the right thing to do. It was particularly hard because business is always quiet after Christmas and picks up in the spring. But now we find ourselves with no income, while we have about $2,000 in fixed costs every month. None of the government programs I’ve seen so far really cover our situation. We might be able to last two months before we have to close our studio permanently.”

Elizabeth Vu | Manager of La Vie en Rose (Pointe-Claire, Que.)

All 10 employees at Ms. Vu’s store have been laid off temporarily. She also has a side gig as a manicurist out of her home, but has paused appointments because of COVID-19.

“On Saturday, we barely had any customers. Other stores in the mall had already started to close. I’m relieved for the safety of my staff, but concerned about how long this epidemic will last. My husband is self-employed – he works with up-and-coming artists and musicians. I’ve applied for EI. My mother, who used to come to watch my son, isn’t coming by. She travels on the Métro and by bus, so it’s good that she can stay home. I know I have a job to go back to, so I’m hanging in there.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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