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Builders work on a new home in North Vancouver, on Oct. 27, 2016.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

The value of Canadian building permits likely fell 23.2 per cent year over year in March as officials took action to fight the coronavirus outbreak, Statistics Canada said in a preliminary flash estimate published on Wednesday.

The Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec had the strongest declines, the national statistics agency said, likely reflecting provincial measures put in place in mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

In Ontario, the value of building permits issued fell by 50.5 per cent compared with March, 2019, the estimate showed.

The March preliminary flash estimates were calculated using open source building permit reports from 23 large municipalities, as well as municipal building permit reports submitted to the agency by April 2, Statscan said.

Combined, these municipalities accounted for about 29 per cent of total building permits by value in 2019, Statscan said, adding the data are not seasonally adjusted.

Meanwhile, in a separate release, Statscan said the value of Canadian building permits fell by 7.3 per cent in February from January.

Analysts surveyed by Reuters had expected a decrease of 4.5 per cent in the value of building permits in February. All figures are seasonally adjusted.

The residential sector saw lower intentions for multifamily components, while the industrial component led the decline in the non-residential sector. The value of building permits were down in five provinces, with B.C. recording the largest decrease.

Housing starts also fell 7.3 per cent in March compared with the previous month, data from the national housing agency showed on Wednesday.

The seasonally adjusted annualized rate of housing starts fell to 195,174 units from a revised 210,574 units in February, with groundbreaking decreasing on multiple unit homes, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. said. Economists had expected starts to fall to 180,000.

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