TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the more than 400,000 jobs lost in the province in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic is “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday morning ahead of the release of national modelling data, which showed the worst-case scenario for COVID-19 growth in the country.

The survey used March 15 to 21 as a sample week and is based on interviews with about 56,000 households. During that week, many non-essential businesses were shut down as a result of the pandemic.

Employment on a whole fell by about one million last month, the survey found, bringing the employment rate to 58.5 per cent—the lowest rate since April 1997.

“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," the Statistics Canada report said.

In Ontario, about 250,000 full-time jobs were lost and about 155,000 people lost their part-time positions.

About 227,000 of those jobs were in the Greater Toronto Area, the survey found.

“The unthinkable is happening,” Ford said. “Ontario lost at least 400,000 jobs last month due to the fall out of this terrible virus. That’s 400,000 people unemployed, 400,000 pay cheques lost, 400,000 families finding it harder to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.”

“Sadly, these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. They are just a snapshot of what we are dealing with.”

According to the survey, the unemployment rate in the province rose from 5.5 per cent to 7.6 per cent.

Speaking at Queen’s Park on Thursday afternoon, Ford said the government will be launching a committee to help grow the economy after COVID-19 runs its course.

“These aren’t just numbers. These are real people. It breaks my heart. It keeps me up at night,” he said. “As a province … we’ve had to make unthinkable sacrifices. We’ve paid a tremendous cost.”

“We aren’t going to wait until this is over. We are going to start working on the economic right now.”

Majority of COVID-19 cases are in four provinces

Speaking to reporters on Thursday afternoon, Canada’s health officials said that with strong public health measures, between 11,000 and 22,000 Canadians could die from the virus.

The numbers differed based on various scenarios of infection.

MORE: National projections show strong health measures needed to keep deaths under 22,000

The data showed that 94 per cent of current cases are in four provinces—Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Ninety-eight per cent of COVID-19-related deaths are also in those provinces.

Last week, Ontario health officials forecasted that between 3,000 and 15,000 people in the province will die from the virus with health measures that are already in place. Since then, the province has reduced the number of essential businesses allowed to stay open and are urging residents to stay at home as much as possible.

More than 5,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the province to date, but Ontario health officials have been criticized for the lack of testing, which may scew the numbers.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said they are ramping up testing at national laboratories to make sure testing capacity as a whole can accelerate.

“You have seen a whole series of briefings from Ontario stepping up all their measures,” she said. “We will be supporting Ontario whenever the need arises.”