The tumble, revealed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is larger than anticipated and came as the coronavirus crisis saw activity stall.
ONS had previously estimated a two per cent drop in first-quarter GDP – the total value of goods produced by the country – but said the revision came after data now showed a record 6.9 per cent plunge in March.
But with the Covid-19 lockdown only coming into force on March 23, the second quarter will show the full hit on the economy after the UK ground to a standstill.
Recent ONS figures showed the economy plummeted by 20.4 per cent in April – the largest drop in a single month since records began.
Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS, said: ‘Our more detailed picture of the economy in the first quarter showed GDP shrank a little more than first estimated – this is now the largest quarterly fall since 1979.
‘Information from government showed health activities declined more than we previously showed.
‘All main sectors of the economy shrank significantly in March as the effects of the pandemic hit.
‘The sharp fall in consumer spending at the end of March led to a notable increase in households’ savings.’
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The news comes as businesses across the Portsmouth area continue to struggle with the financial impact of the crisis.
Scores of ‘non-essential’ retail stores across the city re-opened last week after almost 12 weeks in lockdown hibernation.
More than 300 people boarded Brittany Ferries’ ship Mont St Michel – which is designed to take more than 1,500 people.
The travel operator’s boss, Christophe Mathieu, warned yesterday his firm, which employs dozens of people in Portsmouth, would take a huge financial hit and had already applied for a bail-out loan from the French government.
He claimed there could potentially be a 45 per cent fall in passengers numbers over summer, which is a critical time for travel companies to earn cash.
Mr Mathieu said the cutback would lead to a ‘40 to 45 per cent’ decline in passenger numbers, piling strain on the firm.
‘This has been an horrific year. It’s one of the most devastating years for the travel industry…We normally carry 800,000 passengers between July and August. If we carry 350,000 this summer we will be delighted,’ he said, adding: ‘2020 is definitely a write-off.’