As we begin the countdown to 2021, the general sentiment is that we are entering a new chapter in the Covid-19 pandemic. The new year promises to be a better one with the development of multiple vaccines against the virus set to restore both our health and the economy. That said, logistical challenges in manufacturing and broad distribution of vaccines – as well as questions surrounding its long-term efficacy – will ultimately dictate how much and how quickly the economy recovers from the pandemic.
The leadup to the new year has also brought with it a new surge in infections, and new containment measures. As of December 25, retail services will be reduced to half capacity and large retail locations (those with an area larger than 20,000 square feet) will be reduced to 25 per cent capacity. Casinos and bingo halls have shut down and personal services such as hair salons, massage therapy and tattoo parlours are only allowed to operate at half capacity, including staff.
In response, the provincial government has made new supports available to small- and medium-sized businesses. Eligible businesses impacted by public health orders can apply for the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment (SSBEP). Financial assistance through the program is based on 15 per cent of a business' monthly sales revenue, but eligible businesses can receive up to $5,000 which can be put towards anything. Available supports also include Regina Economic Recovery Grant, which matches grants of up to $25,000 for longer-term diversification initiatives that will support business sustainability.
All told, the province’s economy has performed better than anticipated since the budget was tabled in June. The provincial deficit is now forecast to be $2 billion for the fiscal year, $381.5 million less than budgeted. The agri-food sector – a central piece of the Greater Regina Area’s economy – continues to be a bright spot. The value of grains, oilseeds and other major food exports surged 42% in the first 10 months of 2020, led by wheat and canola.
The new year will see new beginnings, new milestones, new struggles, and a new-found hope for the future. Containment measures have set the regional economy up for a soft start to 2021 to be followed by a healthy rebound as vaccines become widely available. It is important to understand that there will be obstacles between now and then, but if we can collectively embrace new public health orders and continue to support local business the new year will mean new light at the end of the tunnel.