OTTAWA -- More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

"Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months," reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers -- such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout -- to better isolate the pandemic's effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

The number of people in the first bucket has increased by 1.3 million since February, while the second category has increased by 800,000.

"These increases in absences from work can be attributed to COVID-19 and bring the total number of Canadians who were affected by either job loss or reduced hours to 3.1 million," reads the findings.

Quebec, British Columbia, and Ontario saw the biggest jump in unemployment. Only Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island were spared.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his Thursday press briefing acknowledged how grim a picture these numbers paint for Canadians.

"As stark as those numbers are, they aren’t a surprise for a lot of Canadians. Each one represents a different story; a worker who’s been laid off, a family that’s having to hunker down, a community that’s anxious about today and tomorrow," he said. "We’re doing our best to help you bridge to better times."

Economists warn numbers will be worse for the month of April.

“There's no question the April numbers are going to show further weakness on top of what we already had,” Craig Alexander, a chief economist at Deloitte, told CTV News.

Millions of Canadians have applied for federal assistance over the past several weeks, including the Liberal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) launched Monday, which provides those unemployed with $500 a week for 16 weeks. On Wednesday alone, 749,000 Canadians applied for CERB. The government has processed 4.58 million CERB and Employment Insurance claims.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland had a direct message for Canadians on Thursday: "If you haven’t already applied for the CERB, please do so. It is there for you."

"These numbers represent more than one million Canadians and more than one million Canadian families who are experiencing great hardship and who are really afraid."

She also encouraged employers if able to follow the same path as companies like Air Canada and WestJet, which have decided to hire back thousands of employees let go in the face of COVID-19, with the promised support of the government’s wage subsidy benefit.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce issued a statement urging the federal government to expedite the benefit, which both Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have predicted could take between three to six weeks to be fully distributed.

"We ask Parliament to rapidly approve the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and we urge the government to get these urgently-needed funds moving to businesses now," reads the statement.

The Liberals are working with opposition to fine tune the amended wage subsidy legislation and are expected to reconvene Parliament over the next several days to formally give it the green light.

Starting today, qualifying businesses can apply for a Canada Emergency Business Account for an interest-free loan of $40,000 as an added measure to help mitigate economic strain.

"We will keep expanding our three-point economic plan to protect jobs, support business owners, and get everyone the help they need. Things will get better, and once they do you can be sure our country will come roaring back," said Trudeau on Thursday.

Individual provinces are also applying their own measures to ease the blow.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced on Thursday a $2 billion boost to provincial infrastructure maintenance as a means to keep people working. He listed jobs like roofing, window repair, and HVAC repairs.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also announced the creation of a new committee focused squarely on helping the province’s economy bounce back. Ford previously pledged $3.7 billion to support Ontarians out of work and $10 billion to support businesses.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has projected that the government’s added spending to support Canadians out of work and businesses trying to keep afloat would increase the federal deficit to $27.4 billion in 2019-20 and $184.2 billion in 2020-21.

"Relative to the size of the Canadian economy, the deficit would be 1.2 per cent of GDP in 2019-20 and 8.5 per cent of GDP in 2020-21," Yves Giroux states.

"To put this in historical perspective, the last time the budgetary deficit was near 8.5 per cent of GDP was in 1984-85."

Here's a quick look at March employment (numbers from the previous month in brackets):

  • Unemployment rate: 7.8 per cent (5.6)
  • Employment rate: 58.5 per cent (61.8)
  • Participation rate: 63.5 per cent (65.5)
  • Number unemployed: 1,547,000 (1,133,800)
  • Number working: 18,178,700 (19,189,400)
  • Youth (15-24 years) unemployment rate: 16.8 per cent (10.3)
  • Men (25 plus) unemployment rate: 5.9 per cent (4.9)
  • Women (25 plus) unemployment rate: 7.1 per cent (4.7)

Here are the jobless rates last month by province (numbers from the previous month in brackets):

  • Newfoundland and Labrador 11.7 per cent (12.0)
  • Prince Edward Island 8.6 (8.0)
  • Nova Scotia 9.0 (7.8)
  • New Brunswick 8.8 (6.9)
  • Quebec 8.1 (4.5)
  • Ontario 7.6 (5.5)
  • Manitoba 6.4 (5.0)
  • Saskatchewan 7.3 (6.2)
  • Alberta 8.7 (7.2)
  • British Columbia 7.2 (5.0)

Statistics Canada also released seasonally adjusted, three-month moving average unemployment rates for major cities. It cautions, however, that the figures may fluctuate widely because they are based on small statistical samples. Here are the jobless rates last month by city (numbers from the previous month in brackets):

  • St. John's, N.L. 8.3 per cent (8.1)
  • Halifax 6.8 (6.6)
  • Moncton, N.B. 5.7 (5.3)
  • Saint John, N.B. 7.3 (7.0)
  • Saguenay, Que. 6.5 (5.9)
  • Quebec 5.5 (4.1)
  • Sherbrooke, Que. 5.4 (4.5)
  • Trois-Rivieres, Que. 6.3 (4.7)
  • Montreal 6.4 (5.5)
  • Gatineau, Que. 5.8 (4.7)
  • Ottawa 4.9 (4.2)
  • Kingston, Ont. 5.7 (5.2)
  • Peterborough, Ont. 6.7 (6.6)
  • Oshawa, Ont. 7.8 (7.0)
  • Toronto 6.0 (5.4)
  • Hamilton, Ont. 5.7 (4.9)
  • St. Catharines-Niagara, Ont. 7.8 (5.5)
  • Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Ont. 6.0 (5.5)
  • Brantford, Ont. 5.9 (4.7)
  • Guelph, Ont. 5.3 (5.1)
  • London, Ont. 5.8 (4.9)
  • Windsor, Ont. 10.5 (8.3)
  • Barrie, Ont. 5.7 (4.3)
  • Sudbury, Ont. 5.6 (5.3)
  • Thunder Bay, Ont. 6.1 (5.3)
  • Winnipeg 5.5 (4.9)
  • Regina 7.2 (6.6)
  • Saskatoon 7.1 (6.5)
  • Calgary 8.6 (7.4)
  • Edmonton 7.9 (7.8)
  • Kelowna, B.C. 5.9 (5.3)
  • Abbotsford-Mission, B.C. 4.6 (4.7)
  • Vancouver 5.3 (4.4)
  • Victoria 4.6 (3.4)

With files from The Canadian Press