Hong Kong suffers biggest ever population decline as exodus accelerates

Hong Kong suffers biggest ever population decline as exodus accelerates

The city’s total population fell to 7.29 million from 7.41 million people, down 1.6 percent, the Bureau of Census and Statistics said on Thursday.

Although authorities attributed some of this to a “natural” decline — more deaths than births — experts said the figures also reflect an exodus that has accelerated in recent years amid periods of massive social upheaval, which has been accompanied by protests against owned by the government and the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 113,200 residents left Hong Kong last year, the ministry said, compared with 89,200 a year earlier. Figures include expatriates and other non-permanent residents.

Throughout the pandemic, experts and industry leaders have warned that the city’s tight Covid-19 restrictions are driving residents, travelers and expatriates away.

For months, even as the rest of the world opened up, Hong Kong continued to close borders, ground flight routes and impose mandatory quarantines and social distancing measures such as caps on public gatherings and restrictions on restaurant services.

Mask requirements remain in place while public areas such as beaches and gyms have long been closed amid high case numbers.

Hong Kong's Covid divide: Expats get more perks while domestic workers lose their homesThe measures have devastated businesses, with some of Hong Kong’s most famous attractions – including the Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant – shutting down over the past year and the economy,” the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce said in a statement this month.

Group CEO George Leung added that Hong Kong’s border closures “smother any prospect of economic recovery” and urged authorities to come up with a “concrete timeline for Hong Kong’s reopening”.

The government has acknowledged the impact of its policies, saying on Thursday that flight restrictions – such as requiring all arrivals to be vaccinated, to test negative for Covid and to pay for quarantine in a hotel on arrival – “disrupted the flow of population had”.

People wearing face masks walk in Hong Kong on July 12.

This week the government eased quarantine requirements, cutting the number of days arrivals must spend at a given hotel from seven to three.

The government said some Hong Kongers may have chosen to settle elsewhere during the pandemic.

Hong Kong is attempting to 'reboot' its economy by lifting flight bans and easing quarantine

“Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents who left Hong Kong before the pandemic may have chosen to reside elsewhere temporarily or have been unable to return to Hong Kong. All of these (factors) may have contributed to the net outflow of Hong Kong residents during the pandemic period,” a government spokesman said.

But the government downplayed the population decline and seemed to imply that Hong Kong was still a busy financial hub.

“As an international city, Hong Kong’s people have always been mobile,” the spokesman said. “Over the past 10 years, most years have been recorded as net outflows by Hong Kong residents.”

The spokesman added that the problem of Covid-related departures “could be solved if quarantine and social distancing measures are eased” and that the numbers would rise due to the government’s efforts to attract talent from overseas.

The political crackdown

Aside from Covid, experts say another factor behind the exodus is Beijing’s political crackdown on the city. Following Hong Kong’s pro-democracy and anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law that has seen the government all but wipe out formal opposition. Authorities have raided and closed newsrooms, jailed activists and protesters, deposed elected lawmakers, tightened censorship in both online and print publications, and changed school curricula.

Since the law was introduced, many former protesters and lawmakers have fled abroad for fear of prosecution. Many individuals and families have told CNN they too are considering going because they feel the city has been changed beyond recognition.

In the wake of the protests, a number of countries including the UK, Australia and Canada opened new visa routes for Hong Kongers wishing to leave the country. Many former demonstrators and activists have also fled to the self-governing democratic island of Taiwan.

The government has repeatedly defended the security law as restoring law and order to the city, claiming that Hong Kong’s freedoms of speech, press and assembly remain intact.

The security law “quickly and effectively restored stability and security,” the government said on July 29, adding that residents “are relieved and happy to see that Hong Kong now continues to be an open, safe, vibrant and business-friendly metropolis.” “