OTTAWA - Canadian manufacturing sales fell by a record amount in April, the first full month of physical distancing measures in the wake of COVID-19, but sales are expected to regain at least some ground in May as factories moved to resume production.

Statistics Canada said Monday that manufacturing sales fell 28.5 per cent to $36.4 billion in April, following a 9.8 per cent decline in March when the pandemic first began to take hold.

However, the agency said many manufacturers resumed production during the second week of May after full or partial shutdowns in April.

Economists on average had expected a decline of 20.0 per cent for April, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

RBC senior economist Josh Nye said April should prove the low point for Canadian manufacturing.

“Hours worked rose 11 per cent in May after a 24 per cent decline in April. But a swift rebound isn't likely,” he wrote in a report.

“The latest manufacturing PMI indicated declines in output, new orders and employment were less severe in May than April, but still the second worst in the survey's 10 year history. Many respondents were concerned that the pandemic would have a long-lasting impact on their operations.”

Statistics Canada said 85.2 per cent of firms in the manufacturing sector reported that they were impacted by COVID-19.

Sales were down in all 21 industries, led by the transportation equipment and petroleum and coal product industries.

Sales in the transportation equipment industry fell by 76.4 per cent to $1.9 billion in April, the largest drop on record, as Canadian vehicle assembly plants stopped operations, while the petroleum and coal product industry sales dropped by a record 46.4 per cent to $2.0 billion.

Manufacturing sales in volume terms fell by a record 26.0 per cent.