Hong Kong will experience the largest population decline at the rate of departure

The total population of the city fell from 7.41 million people to 7.29 million, a decrease of 1.6%, the Department of Census and Statistics said on Thursday.

Although officials attribute some of that to a “natural” decline — more deaths than births — experts say the figures reflect an accelerated exodus between periods of massive social upheaval in the past few years and anti-government protests and the coronavirus pandemic.

About 113,200 residents left Hong Kong in the past year, compared with 89,200 the year before, the department said. Figures include immigrants and other non-permanent residents.

Throughout the pandemic, experts and industry leaders have warned that the city’s heavy Covid-19 restrictions will drive away residents, commuters and migrants.

Even as the rest of the world opened up, Hong Kong continued to close borders for months, suspending air routes and imposing mandatory quarantine and social distancing measures such as caps on public gatherings and limits on restaurant services.

Mask orders remain in place, but public places such as beaches and gyms face extended closures during peak cases.

The measures have devastated businesses, with some of Hong Kong’s best-known sites — including the Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant — shutting down over the past year.
“More than two and a half years of Covid-19 restrictions are taking a heavy toll on businesses and the economy,” the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce said in a statement this month.

The group’s CEO, George Leung, said Hong Kong’s border closure was “suppressing any prospect of economic recovery” and urged authorities to come up with a “concrete timetable for reopening Hong Kong”.

The government acknowledged the impact of its policies on Thursday, saying flight restrictions – requiring all arrivals to be vaccinated, testing negative for Covid and paying for hotel quarantine upon arrival – had “impeded the influx of population”.

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

This week the government eased the quarantine requirement, reducing the number of days on arrival from seven to three with a designated hotel stay.

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

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“Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents who left Hong Kong before the pandemic may have chosen to live in other places temporarily or were unable to return to Hong Kong. All of these (factors) may have led to a net outflow of Hong Kong residents. period,” said a government spokesperson.

But the government has downplayed the population decline and suggests Hong Kong is still a bustling financial center.

“Being an international city, Hong Kong’s population is always mobile,” the spokesperson said. “Over the past 10 years, the net outflow of Hong Kong residents … has been the highest recorded in years.”

A spokesman said the problem of Covid-driven exodus “could be solved when lockdown and social distancing measures are relaxed” and that the numbers would rise due to government efforts to attract overseas talent.

Political repression

Covid aside, experts say another factor behind the exodus is Beijing’s political repression of the city.
Following Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy, anti-government protests, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law under which the government has suppressed formal opposition. Authorities have raided and closed newsrooms, jailed activists and protesters, unelected elected lawmakers, increased censorship of online and print publications, and changed school curricula.

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

After the protests, several countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, opened new visa routes for Hong Kongers seeking to leave. Many former protesters and activists have fled to the self-ruled democratic island of Taiwan.

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

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

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