The city’s total population fell from 7.41 million to 7.29 million, a decrease of 1.6%, the Census and Statistics department said Thursday.
While authorities attribute some of that to a “natural” decline — more deaths than births — experts said the numbers also reflected an exodus that has accelerated in recent years amid periods of mass social unrest, including protests against the government and the coronavirus pandemic.
About 113,200 residents left Hong Kong last year, the department said, compared with 89,200 the year before. The figures include expatriates and other non-permanent residents.
Throughout the pandemic, experts and industry leaders have warned that the city’s heavy-handed Covid-19 restrictions would drive residents, travelers and expats away.
Mask mandates remain in effect, while public areas such as beaches and gyms have faced lengthy closures during periods of high cases.
The group’s CEO, George Leung, added that the closing of the borders in Hong Kong “stifles any prospect of economic recovery” and urged authorities to come up with a “concrete timetable for Hong Kong’s reopening”. .
The government has admitted the impact of its policies, saying on Thursday that flight restrictions — such as requiring all arrivals to be vaccinated, testing negative for Covid and paying for quarantine at a hotel on arrival — “had interrupted the population influx. ”.
This week, the government eased the quarantine requirement and reduced the number of days arrivals must stay at a designated hotel from seven to three.
The government said some Hong Kongers have chosen to relocate during the pandemic.
“Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents who left Hong Kong before the pandemic chose to temporarily reside in other places or were unable to return to Hong Kong. All of these (factors) may have contributed to the net outflow of Hong Kong residents during the period,” a government spokesman said.
But the government downplayed the population decline and seemed to suggest that Hong Kong was still a bustling financial center.
“As an international city, Hong Kong’s population has always been mobile,” the spokesperson said. “Over the past 10 years, net outflows from Hong Kong residents have been recorded for most years.”
The spokesperson added that the problem of Covid-induced departures “could be solved when quarantine and social distancing measures are relaxed”, and that the number would rise as a result of the government’s efforts to attract foreign talent.
The political crackdown
Since the law was introduced, many former protesters and lawmakers have fled abroad, fearing persecution. Many individuals and families have told DailyExpertNews they too are considering leaving because they feel the city has been transformed beyond recognition.
In the wake of the protests, a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, have opened new visa routes for Hong Kongers wishing to leave. Many former protesters and activists have also fled to the self-governing democratic island of Taiwan.
The government has repeatedly defended the security law to restore law and order in the city, claiming that Hong Kong’s freedom of expression, press and assembly remain intact.
The security law “has 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 is now still an open, safe, vibrant and business-friendly metropolis.” .”