CALGARY -- The Calgary Stampede temporarily laid off close to 900 people Tuesday, as COVID-19 concerns slowly ground the city's economy to a halt.

With the government restricting events of more than 50 people, there wasn't much the Stampede could do otherwise, after already cancelling several signature events such as Aggie Days and the Chuckwagon Canvas auction in recent days.

For Stampede CEO Warren Connell, these days are unlike any he's ever lived through.

"We're currently facing an unprecedented halt to activity, certainly not like I've seen in 36 years with the organization," Connell said, in an interview with CTV Calgary's Camilla di Giuseppe.

Of the 890 people laid off, 608 were casual event workers, while 282 were regular part time and full time employees. The layoffs account for about 80 per cent of the Stampede's entire staff.

The Stampede also said it would top up employees that qualify for employment insurance benefits for their first two weeks under CRA rules to a maximum of 95 per cent, in addition to covering both its costs and its permanent employees' costs of retaining health benefits over the next two months.

"We are saddened by the measures we undertook today," Connell said. "Our thoughts are with those employees and their families impacted by this decision."

The Stampede remains hopeful that the Calgary Stampede will still happen in 2020, although no decisions have been made at this time.