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LONDON: Britain’s unemployment rate edged up to 5.1 percent in the final quarter of 2020, official data showed on Tuesday, as coronavirus lockdowns slashed economic activity. The rate compared with 5.0 percent in the three months to the end of November, which was a 4.5-year high, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

Analysts expect unemployment to surge when the UK government’s furlough scheme paying the bulk of wages for millions of private-sector workers comes to a stop — as currently planned — at the end of April. Finance minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday hinted at further employment support in the coming months as England begins to exit its third lockdown form early March.

Details are expected to come in his annual budget next week.

“I know how incredibly tough the past year has been for everyone and every job lost is a personal tragedy,” the chancellor of the exchequer said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday set out a four-step plan to ease coronavirus restrictions, expressing hope that life could get back to normal by the end of June.

The ONS on Tuesday added that at 5.1 percent, the unemployment rate was 1.3 percentage points higher compared with the final quarter of 2019. The number of payroll employees tumbled by 726,000 between February and January 2021, it said.