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'What will I live on?': Crisis-hit Europeans seek state aid

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Berlin (AFP)

Thousands of self-employed people across Europe have found themselves without work from one day to the next as governments ordered shops shut, events cancelled and gatherings banned to stem contagion of the novel coronavirus.

AFP has spoken to a cross-section of society hard hit by the ensuing economic crisis -- some who have received much needed government aid, as well as others who are still waiting.

- 'What will I live on?' -

German opera singer Anna Luise Oppelt was on tour when she received the bad news: all the concerts she had booked have been cancelled through April because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I was thinking: Oh God, I have nothing on, what would I live on in the next months?" the 35-year-old told AFP.

With Easter round the corner, Oppelt's calendar had been packed with church concerts.

After learning about an economic aid package worth over a trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) deployed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, Oppelt quickly sought help.

She admitted suffering a few nerve-wrecking moments when she saw a queue of around 140,000 people ahead of her on her first try to fill in an online form seeking aid.

"But I thought, they said there is enough to go around. It must work."

On Monday morning, it was finally her turn to fill in the online form, which she completed in 35 minutes.

"On Tuesday evening, I got an email confirmation and the money was already in my bank account," she said of the 5,000 euros that is to help tide her over for six months.

"It is great that they decided very, very quickly. It should be enough for half a year, it's small help but a good help."

- 'Germany is amazing' -

Berlin-based Australian artist Anto Christ also saw her income stream dry up when Germany went into a lockdown.

"I'm an artist everyday, but for money, I do workshops with children and I work at a club, I have a mini contract with them so they pay me a little bit, that's only 400 euros a month.

"My bills and everything, that doesn't cover even that."

After hearing about the aid scheme from a friend, she quickly applied.

"Not only we got it approved in four days but we got it straight away," said the 34-year-old.

"I think Germany is amazing."

- 'Counting on this' -

Elsewhere in Europe, it was a more uncertain wait.

Sara Matteuzzi who manages three AirBnB apartments in the centre of Rome is now without income as tourists deserted the country that had become the epicentre of the pandemic.

Three South Americans whom she employs to clean the apartments have also found themselves without work.

"I have asked for 600 euros in help from the state for self-employed workers," she said, explaining that she has "fees and rent to pay".

Matteuzzi counted among the first to file her request with the National Institute of Social Security on April 1.

"They responded 24 hours later to say they'll give me a number for the process. But nothing more concrete. I'm really counting on this."

- 'Very complicated form' -

Cecilia Gaspar, 52, a Peruvian national who cleans an office in Rome is now without work.

She has sought food vouchers from the local authorities to be able to afford daily necessities, including for her daughter who has a newborn.

After filling in a "very complicated form", she was informed that she will receive a message on her phone detailing where she can get her voucher.

"I am eligible because I've lost my cleaning jobs that help me to make ends meet," she said.

But even that help won't arrive before April 9 -- with no details thus far on how and where.

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