OTTAWA -- Small business confidence has fallen to an all-time low amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the group that represents small and medium-sized businesses in Canada.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says its business barometer has fallen nearly 30 points in March to 30.8, the lowest in its 32-year history.

The index registers how optimistic small business owners are feeling for the upcoming year on a scale up to 100.

Many businesses have scaled back operations or shut down completely as people stay home and physically distance to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“March 2020 has turned out to be a month like no other in Canada’s economic history,” Ted Mallett, CFIB’s vice-president and chief economist, said in a news release. “Small business sentiment has never been this low in the Business Barometer’s 32-year history, including during the 2008 and 1990 recessions.”

The survey showed only one in five business owners say their business is in a good state. Hiring plans have evaporated, with just five per cent of business owners planning to add full-time staff in the next three months and 50 per cent planning layoffs.

The House of Commons passed an $82 billion economic aid package early Wednesday morning, including a temporary wage program aimed at helping employers retain workers. The CFIB is advocating for more relief.

”We are urging governments to provide more relief for small businesses to make sure that we can restore optimism after the crisis is over,” Mallett said.

The provincial results show Quebec experienced the sharpest drop in optimism this month, with its index falling more than 44 points to 15.7. The CFIB says that could be because of the quicker and more drastic measures the province has taken to slow the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ontario’s index, 37, is higher than the national average.

Among industries, the information and recreation sector was the least optimistic, followed by manufacturing and financial services.

The CFIB’s findings are based on 1,378 responses, collected from a stratified random sample of CFIB members, to a controlled-access web survey.

Data reflect responses received on March 17 and 18. Findings are statistically accurate to plus-or-minus 2.6 per cent, 19 times in 20.