The employment rate in the European Union climbed back above 2019 levels last year, as the labour market started recovering from the pandemic, the bloc's statistics office said on Thursday.

The share of employed Europeans rose to 73.1% last year from 71.7% in 2020 and 72.7% in 2019, the European Union's statistics office Eurostat said in a statement.

"As massive vaccination campaigns started all around the world in 2021, the situation with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic began to improve gradually in the first quarter of 2021," Eurostat said.

However, the bloc's statistics office notes that the circulation of new coronavirus variants led to temporary lockdowns in Europe.

In 2021, the employment rate of 16 out of 27 EU member states, including Poland, Romania, Greece and Malta, reached or exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

The highest rates for people aged 20 to 64 were recorded in the Netherlands (81.7%), Sweden (80.7%) and the Czech Republic (80.0%).

According to Eurostat, Croatia (68.2%), Spain (67.7%), Romania (67.1%), Italy (62.7%) and Greece (62.6%) had the lowest employment rates in 2021.

(Reporting by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Toby Chopra)