Experts attribute the steepest yearly population reduction in Hong Kong to rigorous Covid control measures and a political crackdown that has diminished the appeal of a financial centre that has long been marketed as “Asia’s world city”, as reported by CNN.
The city’s total population fell from 7.41 million people to 7.29 million, a 1.6% decrease, the Census and Statistics Department said Thursday.
That’s the steepest decline since the government began tracking figures in 1961.
The figures include expatriates and other non-permanent residents.
Even as the rest of the world opened up, for months Hong Kong continued to close borders, suspend air routes and impose mandatory quarantines and social distancing measures such as caps on public gatherings and limits on restaurant services.
“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, added that Hong Kong’s border closures were “stifling any prospect of economic recovery” and urged authorities to come up with a “concrete timetable to reopen Hong Kong.”
This week the government eased the quarantine requirement, lowering the number of days arrivals must stay in a designated hotel from seven to three.
The government said some Hong Kongers may have chosen to settle elsewhere during the pandemic.
But the government downplayed the population drop and seemed to suggest Hong Kong was still a bustling finance hub.
“During the past 10 years, net outflows of Hong Kong residents … were recorded for most of the years.”
The spokesperson added that the problem of Covid-driven departures “could be resolved when the quarantine and social distancing measures relaxed,” and that numbers would rise due to government efforts to attract overseas talent.
The political crackdown
Covid aside, experts say another factor behind the exodus is Beijing’s political crackdown on the city.
Authorities have raided and closed down newsrooms, jailed activists and protesters, unseated elected lawmakers, heightened censorship both online and in printed publications, and changed school curricula.
Since the law was introduced, many former protesters and lawmakers have fled overseas, fearing prosecution.
Many former protesters 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.
Did you subscribe to our daily Newsletter?
It’s Free! Click here to Subscribe