UK construction output last month plummeted at its fastest pace for nearly 11 years and employment in the sector dropped at the sharpest rate in almost a decade, amid the developing Covid-19 coronavirus crisis, a key survey shows.

And the survey signals worse to come for the sector.

Employment in the sector dropped in March at the fastest pace since September 2010, according to the survey published yesterday by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply and IHS Markit.

CIPS director Duncan Brock said: “As measures to contain the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic were put in place across the UK, construction sites closed and builders lost their jobs on a frightening scale.”

Construction companies are more pessimistic about the prospects for the year ahead than at any time since October 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis. This pessimism was “almost exclusively attributed to the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”, CIPS noted.

The CIPS-IHS Markit construction activity index dropped to 39.3 last month from 52.6 in February on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The latest reading is the lowest since April 2009, in the depths of the 2008/09 recession triggered by the global financial crisis. It is way adrift of the level of 50 deemed to separate expansion from contraction and signals a very steep fall in output.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: This is why employers must do right thing at height of coronavirus crisis – and later

CIPS noted: “Survey respondents overwhelmingly attributed reduced activity to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Of the three sub-sectors covered by the survey, civil engineering recorded the sharpest contraction in March, with an activity index of 34.4. The commercial property construction index was 35.7. Housebuilding showed the least-steep contraction, with an activity index of 46.6, but a far steeper slump was projected amid restrictions aimed at slowing the coronavirus spread.

The UK went into "lockdown" on March 23 in a drive to slow the spread of the virus.

CIPS said: “Construction companies often commented on an expected slump in housebuilding from stoppages on site amid increasing measures to slow the spread of Covid-19.”

Tim Moore, economics director at financial information company IHS Markit, said: “March data provides an early snapshot of the impact on UK construction output from emergency public health measures to halt the Covid-19 pandemic, with activity falling to the greatest extent since the global financial crisis.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Surely delaying single-market exit can no longer be divisive, as coronavirus pandemic overshadows Brexit?

“The closure of construction sites and lockdown measures will clearly have an even more severe impact on business activity in the coming months. Survey respondents widely commented on doubts about the feasibility of continuing with existing projects as well as starting new work.”

He added: “Construction supply chains instead are set to largely focus on the provision of essential activities such as infrastructure maintenance, safety-critical remedial work and support for public services in the weeks ahead."