Hong Kong’s unemployment rate rose to 7.2% in the December-February period, the government said on Tuesday, hitting the highest level since 2004.

The jobless rate for the three months reached 7.2 percent, up from 7 percent in the November-January period, according to public broadcaster RTHK.

Local government figures show more than 261,000 people were left jobless in the three months period.

The jobless rate in consumption-and tourism-related sectors was the hardest hit with over 11%.

Hong Kong had hit an all-time high of 8.5% during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

Early this month, the US-based Heritage Foundation dropped Hong Kong from its Index of Economic Freedom, arguing that the region’s economic policies are controlled by Beijing.

The list figures world’s “freest economies.”

Notably, Hong Kong topped the list for 25 years up to 2019 when it lost the top spot to Singapore.

Law Chi-kwong, Hong Kong Secretary for Labor and Welfare, said the labor market remained under notable pressure.

“Although the situation seemed to stabilize later in the period thanks to improvement in the local epidemic situation,” he said.

Law hoped the city-wide COVID-19 vaccination program could “help to ease the pressure on the employment market later in the year.”

Hong Kong has reported over 11,300 cases of the COVID-19 including 203 deaths since the outbreak in December 2019.

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