Japan's unemployment rate worsened to 2.8% in April, increasing for the first time in six months, as hiring in the service sector softened under the government's third coronavirus state of emergency, government data showed Friday.

The jobless rate climbed from 2.6% marked in March, but it was lower than 2.9% registered in February, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

Separate data from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry showed the job availability ratio in April worsened to 1.09 from 1.10 a month earlier, meaning that there were 109 job openings for every 100 job seekers. It improved 0.01 point in March.

In late April, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a third state of emergency in Tokyo and three western prefectures in response to a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections driven by highly contagious virus variants.

It entailed stricter and broader virus prevention steps than the second emergency, effective from January to March for the capital and other areas, seeking not only alcohol-serving establishments but also major commercial facilities such as department stores to close temporarily, in addition to stay-at-home requests.

The total number of unemployed people increased 200,000 from a year earlier to 2.09 million, while people in work rose 290,000 to 66.57 million.

By sector, however, accommodation and restaurant services, hit hard by the prolonged pandemic, saw a larger fall in the number of workers than any other, losing 200,000 from the previous year to 3.53 million.

The deterioration in the unemployment rate is likely to reflect whether the emergency declaration was in place in the final week of each month, when the survey is conducted, a government official told reporters.

The second emergency declaration was lifted on March 21 and the third one was effective from April 25.

Suga had initially planned to lift the latest emergency on May 11, but as the number of daily new infection cases showed no sign of abating during the Golden Week holidays through early May, the declaration was extended to May 31 and expanded to 10 prefectures.

In the reporting month, 35.68 million of those with jobs were regular workers, rising 50,000 from the previous year and up for the 11th consecutive month, while 20.39 million were nonregular employees, growing 200,000 and up for the first time in 14 months.

"In contrast to March, the April numbers of workers and the unemployed both rose, and that may have a good aspect as the increase of employees implies that firms recruited as planned at the beginning of the fiscal year" which started in April, said Naoko Ogata, a senior economist at the Japan Research Institute.

The latest outcome shows the gender gap in the jobless rate widened. The rate for men rose 0.4 point from the previous month to 3.2%, with that for women fell 0.1 point to 2.3%.

Ogata added she believes that the recovery trend of the unemployment rate from the initial shock of the pandemic "has been entering a lull" as the uncertainty over the outlook has been growing under the ongoing virus emergency.

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