It was the sucker punch no one ever saw coming. At the end of December 2019, rumour had it that a new, strange respiratory illness had emerged in China. The following weeks confirmed it – the WHO dubbed this novel coronavirus COVID-19.

In January, it appeared to be concentrated in China. By February, however, it popped up in Iran and Italy. Even by this stage, nobody fully realized how infectious this bug was. And then, March happened. Seemingly overnight, infections exploded in most significant nations on Earth.

By mid-month, virtually every country of consequence was in varying degrees of lockdown.

It doesn’t take a math major to understand how devastating this turn of events has been for SMEs. While large corporations are crying over lost profits. smaller businesses are fighting for their lives. Depending on where you live, small businesses make up 97-99% of all commercial operations.

These enterprises are not like Amazon. They don’t have billions in savings socked away. The most prudent SMEs, have, at most, a few million saved up. Mom-and-pop operations, if they’re lucky, might have several thousand dollars in reserve.

Most small to medium-sized enterprises can’t survive more than a few months without revenue. This predicament is why governments across the world have launched COVID rescue funds for small businesses.

Below, we’ll share COVID relief programs from around the world. In writing this post, we hope you’ll find the help you need.


Australia has responded robustly in the face of the coronavirus threat. Since March 2020, the federal government has released more than a half-dozen initiatives to support SMEs. Below, we’ve listed the three most prominent programs.

The JobKeeper Payment provides $1,500 per employee, every two weeks, until 27 September 2020. To streamline the distribution of funds, the government hasn’t means-tested them. SMEs of any structure, from sole traders to shareholder entities, can receive these payments.

The Boosting Cash Flow For Employers program provides eligible businesses payments totalling $20,000 to $100,000. To qualify, you must turnover less than $50 million in revenue annually. Additionally, you must have employees you pay wages/salaries that are subject to withholding.

Small businesses who need access to capital can get it through the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme. Through the SME loan guarantee program in Australia, the federal government will guarantee loans up to 50%.

In all, businesses that qualify can take out an unsecured loan of up to $250,000. These loans will have a three-year repayment window, with an initial six-month payment holiday.

New Zealand

New Zealand has three significant initiatives designed to help owners of small business weather COVID-19. The Wage Subsidy provides up to $585 per week per full-time employee and $350 per week per part-time employee. Businesses must do their utmost to pay at least 80% of their usual wages to receive funds. SMEs who have seen revenues fall by more than 30% are eligible for this scheme.

The Leave Support Scheme is designed to help employers who have sick employees. This program funds employers to compensate them for workers who need to self-isolate at home. Compensation schedules are the same as the Wage Subsidy – $585 per week per full-time employee, and $350 per week per employee.

Finally, the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme extends loans of up to $500,000 to businesses who need immediate access to capital. The New Zealand government guarantees 80% of the loan amount, with financial institutions covering the remaining 20%. To qualify, SMEs must have annual revenues from $250,000 to $80 million.

United Kingdom

The UK has brought in a slew of stimulus programs to help businesses affected by COVID-19. However, for those with employees, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be of particular interest.

This program allows qualified employers to claim grants worth 80% of their employee’s wages. Companies of all sizes can apply, but they must be registered through the Pay As You Earn System (PAYE). The UK government caps grants at £2,500 per employee.

Sole proprietors also have access to the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. Qualified self-employed individuals can get a one-time grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits, capped at £7,500.

Applicants must prove their business has been significantly curtailed due to COVID-19 to be eligible. Sole proprietors who are self-isolating or caring for someone due to COVID-19 also qualify. Do note that this grant is considered taxable.

British SMEs who need financing due to COVID-related difficulties can apply for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Under this program, the UK government will guarantee loans up to £5 million and pay interest/fees for 12 months.

Businesses with an annual turnover of less than £45 million are eligible to apply. In their application, they must show that COVID-19 has adversely affected their operations. Additionally, they must not have been classified as a “business in difficulty” on 31 December 2019.


The Canadian government has implemented several programs designed to help small businesses affected by the COVID crisis. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, or CEWS, covers 75% of an employee’s wages, up to a cap of $847 per week. Additionally, employers who get CEWS will receive a 100% refund of employer contributions to EI, CPP, and QPP/QPIP. To qualify, companies must have suffered gross revenue declines of 15% in March, and 30% in April and May.

Some businesses can also apply for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program (CERCA). It covers half the property owner’s mortgage payments if they agree to cut tenant rent by 75%. If they do this, the federal government will forgive the loan. Applicant businesses must have revenue losses of greater than 70% due to COVID-19, and pay rent less than $50,000 per month.

If an SME affected by COVID-19 requires emergency access to capital, they can access it through the Business Credit Availability Program. Also known as BCAP, this initiative has two main parts.

CEBA, or the Canada Emergency Business Account, provides urgent loans of up to $40,000 to eligible SMEs. These loans are 100% backed by the federal government. If you repay the sum by December 31, 2022, the government will forgive 25% up to $10,000. If you can’t, the balance owing will convert to a three-year loan at 5% interest. To qualify, enterprises must have payrolls between $20,000 to $1.5 million.

The second part offers loan guarantees through the EDC and the BDC. The EDC loan guarantee program provides companies that were viable pre-COVID loans of up to $6.25 million. These loans are 80% backed by the EDC, and applicant businesses must use them for operational expenses.

The BDC loans are similar to the ones offered by the EDC. However, they can also be used for liquidity as well as for covering operational expenses. Loans vary by enterprise size. Businesses with revenues of less than $1 million can get up to $312,500, while companies with income of up to $50 million can borrow up to $3.125 million. All payments on BDC loans are interest-free for the first 12 months, and have a 10-year term.

United States

Despite the usual congressional drama, the U.S. government has extended financial assistance to small businesses struggling with COVID-related slowdowns.

The passing of the CARES Act funded the Economic Injury Disaster Advance Loans program. Administered through the Small Business Administration, or SBA, it provides up to $10,000 in advance funding for businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, entrepreneurs will be able to apply for up to $2 million in loans. This capital can be used by applicants to fund working capital.

At present, this is the only major federal initiative designed specifically for SMEs. However, some state and local governments have come up with COVID-19 relief programs of their own. Check with authorities in your area for details.

Hang In There

This is an unprecedented time. Fortunately, governments around the world have taken unprecedented measures to protect small business owners. By applying for the schemes mentioned above, you too can ride out the storm.