Local police officers patrol in front of the city hall in Plaza Cibeles in Madrid. AFP
Spain's unemployment rate jumped in the first quarter to 14.4 per cent, figures from national statistics institute INE showed on Tuesday, as a nationwide coronavirus lockdown hit the eurozone's fourth largest economy.
The jobless rate was up from 13.8 per cent in the previous quarter, its lowest level since the third quarter of 2008 but still the highest rate in the eurozone after Greece.
Spain, one of the hardest-hit nations by the coronavirus pandemic, imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 14 which has largely paralysed its economy.
Many companies have faced difficulties to conduct business or have been forced to close temporarily, with hotels and the restaurant sector hit especially hard in the world's second most visited country after France.
The number of jobless rose by 121,000 people to hit 3.31 million at the end of March, according to the statistics office.
But the figure may actually be higher since INE said many workers who lost their jobs were classified as "inactive" because the survey carried out to determine the jobless rate was disrupted by the lockdown.
The jobless figure also does not include the roughly 3.9 million workers who the government says have been temporarily laid off from their jobs.
Spain's leftist government has simplified rules for temporary layoffs, under which companies facing financial difficulties can temporarily suspend a worker's contract, while at the same time it had banned permanent dismissals during the pandemic to try to soften the blow to the economy from the COVID-19 outbreak.
Spanish airline Iberia, fast-food retailer Burger King and automaker Seat are among the large companies that have temporarily laid off thousands of staff.
Tourism accounts for around 12 per cent of Spain's economic output and global travel has been hammered by the pandemic since governments imposed travel restrictions and airlines grounded scores of flights.
The International Monetary Fund predicts the country's jobless rate will hit 20.8 per cent this year while the Bank of Spain sees it rising to between 18.3 per cent and 21.7 per cent depending on how long lockdown lasts.
Parliament last week approved extending the lockdown until May 9 and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said Spain could hopefully begin to ease its restrictions in the second half of May, but has warned that "de-escalation will be slow".
Spain's unemployment rate soared in 2008 after a decade-long property bubble burst, throwing millions of people out of work.
The rate has been steadily falling since hitting a peak of 27.2 in early 2013.
The contraction, triggered by one of Europe's strictest coronavirus lockdowns, was worse than the 16.6% expected by analysts. It came after a 5.2% drop in the first quarter, dragging Spain into its steepest recession ever, at a record pace.
The authorities closed the borders to everybody but Spaniards, cross-border workers and truck drivers from mid-March when the country went into lockdown to curb the coronavirus contagion.
Some 898,822 workers lost their jobs since March 12 in Spain, social security data showed on Thursday, more than half of which are temporary workers. The number of people officially registered as unemployed in the country rose to 3.5 million in March, the highest level since April 2017.
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