Hong Kong's Dec-Feb unemployment rises to 3.7%, highest in more than 9 years

HONG KONG, March 17 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 3.7% in the December to February period, the highest in more than nine years, as the coronavirus dealt a severe blow to an economy already in recession, the government said on Tuesday.

The jobless rate rose from 3.4% in the November-January period, government data showed. The underemployment rate hit a five-year high of 1.5% in December-February from 1.2% in the previous three-month rolling period. Total employment fell 2.5% year-on-year, the most since the Asian financial crisis.

The combined unemployment rate in the consumption and tourism sectors increased to 6.1%, the highest in about a decade.

"The labour market will be subject to even greater pressure in the near term, and the impact will hinge on the duration and severity of the pandemic around the world," Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said in a statement.

Hong Kong's economy contracted for the first time in a decade in 2019 due to often-violent anti-government protests and the U.S.-China trade war. The recession is expected to deepen this quarter due to severe social distancing measures taken to fight the coronavirus outbreak. (Reporting by Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu; Editing by Louise Heavens)