Plans are being rekindled and bookings made in the diary. From the high street, the shops, pubs and restaurants of Britain may remain largely in darkness, but preparations are accelerating behind the scenes for the easing of lockdown.

After more than a quarter of the year with no customers coming through their doors, non-essential shops and hospitality venues in England are starting to bring back workers from furlough and hiring new staff in the run-up to 12 April.

With employers buoyed by progress with the Covid vaccine and anticipating a boom in pent-up demand from lockdown-weary consumers, a picture of strength is emerging for the UK jobs market.

A generation ago an improving outlook would have been counted by the job adverts in the classified pages of the local newspaper. But in today’s digital labour market, platforms such as Instagram and Facebook and search engines such as Adzuna or Indeed are better ready reckoners.

Things are indeed looking up. According to figures tracked by the Office for National Statistics, online job adverts had risen to 96% of their pre-pandemic average on Adzuna by the last week of March, the strongest performance since the crisis struck a year ago.

Unemployment fell in the three months to January, according to the latest official figures, before the government’s roadmap for easing restrictions was announced in what is hoped to be a curtain raiser of better things to come. At 5%, representing 1.7 million people, the jobless tally in Britain is above the rate in Germany but below the US, France, Spain and other comparable big economies.

So far Britain has defied the gloomiest forecasts with help from billions of pounds in emergency government support for jobs and businesses. UK unemployment is up to 2 million lower than feared last summer when the independent Office for Budget Responsibility predicted an early end to furlough would have sent the jobless rate to almost 12%.

To put the UK’s performance in context, history shows that the average rise in the unemployment rate for each of the past three major recessions was about 4.5 percentage points. The worst was in the 1980s when it

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