Hong Kong's unemployment rate between December 2020 and February 2021 climbed from 7% previously to 7.2%, the highest since 2004, according to the government's latest statistics. The underemployment rate also rose from 3.8% to 4%, the same level as the post-SARS era.
Total employment shrank 0.6% to 3.61 million, while the number of unemployed increased 3.3% to 261,600.
Notably, the jobless rate in the import and export trade sector, postal and courier activities sector, education sector, and arts, entertainment and recreation sector rose distinctly.
Meanwhile, the jobless rate in the consumption and tourism-related sectors improved slightly, dropping 0.2% to 11.1%. Specifically, the unemployment rate for food and beverage service activities declined 0.6% to 14.1% in the previous three-month rolling period. The retail sector, however, rose from 8.9% to 9.1%.
As for underemployment, the surge was mainly seen in the retail sector, food and beverage service activies sector and arts, entertainment and recreation sector.
"The labour market remained under notable pressure from December 2020 to February 2021. However, the situation tended to stabilise in the latter part of the three-month period alongside the improvement in the epidemic situation," said the secretary for labour and welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong.
"The labour market will still face challenges in the near term as the epidemic has yet to be fully contained and inbound tourism remains frozen. With the launch of the Covid-19 Vaccination Programme, the threat of the epidemic may gradually recede and this will help ease the pressure on the labour market later in the year. The government will continue to monitor the situation closely."
Despite the official's optimism, Professor Leo Sin Yat-Ming from the Chinese University of Hong Kong told Oriental Daily that the fact that the government eased social distancing measures after the Chinese New Year signifies that the jobless rate will exacerbate further, as many businesses profit the most in a year from the annual celebration.
He added that the recent gym cluster could trigger a fifth wave of infections.
The government relaxed social distancing measures on 18 Feb for the first time since December 2020, reopening leisure facilities e.g. fitness centres and extending dining hours.