In the one whole year since the World Health Organization’s declaration of the pandemic, we have learned so much. We’ve learned about SARS-CoV-2, about workplace protocols to keep us safe and healthy, about the importance of investing in community and spending our money in local businesses, and about the impact of kindness, patience, and relationships. But, as we’ve talked about before in this newsletter, it is hard to know how to measure the past year.

Do we measure it in total COVID-19 case numbers, test positivity rates, or ICU beds occupied by patients? Do we measure it in news conferences, articles, changes in public health orders, or emergency relief dollars? Do we measure it in days, which can feel so long, or in months? (I can hardly believe 12 months have passed since the world as we know it changed.) Do we measure it in missed days of school and work due to illness and testing self-isolation, in lost productivity and job losses, in Zoom calls, decreased revenues, cancelled flights and dinner reservations, or the total number of days our hairstylist or gym was closed to in-person transactions and patrons?

Or, should we be measuring it in total number of people recovered, variety of vaccine formulations, and ever-increasing vaccination rates?

In spite of all the metrics, scientific data, rates, and ratios, this past year — and our immediate future — still feel foggy, unclear, and immeasurable is so many ways. We want to move forward into social and economic recovery, and return to some sense of normalcy, but do we even know what that is anymore? And for that matter, are we “returning” to anything, or should we actually forging a new path?

Last week, on March 11, Statistics Canada released its COVID-19 one-year retrospective, full of interesting tables, measurements, and insights:

  • “Our economy was 3.3% smaller at year end. Millions of Canadians were temporarily underemployed or out of work at some point last year. This was also a downturn like no other, with sectors of the economy thriving, such as online sales, housing, forestry and crop farming.”
  • “While businesses that provide accommodation and food services remained severely impacted, the number of active businesses has declined substantially in most sectors, largely reflecting closures among small firms.”

“During the fall of 2020, almost 20% of businesses reported that they would be able to operate for less than six months at current revenue and expenditure levels, and 30% more were uncertain as to how long they could continue to operate.”

As we move through 2021, here are some of the changes and commitments for which the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and our local chambers will be pushing locally, as well as working alongside our Canadian Chamber of Commerce colleagues to champion at the national level:

Manitobans need a better understanding of what will happen after mass vaccination. “Focusing on the fundamentals” is the new mantra, and excellent hygiene will likely always have to be a cornerstone of health practices, even though it’s easy to get lazy and careless. And what about vaccine hesitancy and the possible need for regular immunizations? How do we overcome these obstacles? What about masks and social distancing? Are we to expect these recommended behaviours to stick around long-term or even permanently?

Manitoba’s Public Health team should consider a regional approach to applying and lifting prevention orders. With our province’s vast geographic footprint and low population density, we should be assessing risk by health region, and acting based on clearly-defined thresholds aligned to each level of the Pandemic Response System.

The Government of Canada and all provincial levels of government still have much to do to support the hardest-hit sectors, including hospitality and hotels, travel/tourism, airlines/airports, as well as overall SMEs. The on-ramp to the digital economy is a traffic jam, and even though Statistics Canada’s Survey on Business Conditions shows a strong percentage of SMEs developing their online presence, we’re not all there yet. And since we know that online commerce can be as border-free as we want it to be, SMEs need access to the technology, tools & training to expand into new and exciting markets.

To ensure a strong, representative recovery, governments MUST focus on the most marginalized groups, including women, BIPOC & LGBTQ+ communities, young Canadians, as well as the lowest-earning Canadians, all of whom have been disproportionately and most severely affected by the pandemic. We need to include all Canadians as we rebuild, and ensure access to reskilling and upskilling.

Manitoba employers need to understand the trajectory of proposed recovery plans and expected outcomes. We urge the Province to outline a future-looking readiness plan to enable Manitoba’s employers to plan and prepare.

As we trudge through the fog into Year 2, let’s remember to be kind and tolerant, to think LOCAL in everything we do, and to remain optimistic about our future.

We will recover successfully, but we must come together as a community to achieve that goal.

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