(Bloomberg) -- Australia’s unemployment rate tumbled to a 13-year low as a hiring boom extended into December, even as surging coronavirus cases cast a shadow over the economic outlook in the near-term.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.2%, the lowest level since 2008 and easily beating the median estimate of 4.5%, Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed Thursday. The economy added 64,800 roles last month, compared with a forecast 60,000.

The Australian dollar rose to 72.26 U.S. cents at 11:44 a.m. in Sydney. 

“This is the lowest unemployment rate since August 2008, just before the start of the Global Financial Crisis,” said Bjorn Jarvis, head of labor statistics at the ABS. “This is also close to the lowest unemployment rate in the monthly series -- February 2008 -- and for a rate below 4 we need to look back to the 1970’s.”

The survey was conducted in the first two weeks of December when cases of the omicron variant were still benign. 

Jobs are among the last major data before the Reserve Bank of Australia is due to decide the fate of its bond-buying program. The board meets Feb. 1 and is likely to either taper quantitative easing or scrap it altogether, depending on the economic outlook. 

The result will also be a much-needed boost for the nation’s conservative government that’s trailing in opinion polls ahead of an election due by May. 

It’s aiming to buttress its economic credentials after facing criticism over chaotic management during the omicron outbreak that has left everyday Australians clamoring for rapid antigen tests, painkillers and fresh food at supermarkets. 

In addition, an increasing number of staff are in isolation due to illness, causing the country more acute pain from the variant. 

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