The city’s total population fell from 7.41 million to 7.29 million, down 1.6 percent, the Census and Statistics Department said Thursday.
Although authorities attributed some of this to a “natural” decrease – more deaths than births – experts said the figures also reflected an exodus that has accelerated in recent years amid periods of massive social upheaval which has included anti-government protests and the coronavirus pandemic.
About 113,200 residents left Hong Kong over the past year, the department said, up from 89,200 the previous year. Figures include expatriates 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, travelers and expats.
Mask mandates remain in effect, while public spaces like beaches and gyms have faced lengthy closures during times of high case numbers.
Group 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 for reopening Hong Kong”.
The government has acknowledged the impact of its policy, saying on Thursday that flight restrictions – such as requiring all arrivals to be vaccinated, testing negative for Covid and paying for hotel quarantine at the arrival – “had interrupted the influx of people”.
This week the government relaxed the quarantine requirement, lowering the number of days arrivals must stay at a designated hotel from seven to three.
The government said some Hong Kongers may have chosen to relocate during the pandemic.
“Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents who had left Hong Kong before the pandemic may have chosen to temporarily reside in other places or may not have been able to return to Hong Kong. All of these (factors) may have contributed to the ‘net exodus of Hong Kong residents during the period,’ a government spokesperson said.
But the government played down the decline in population and seemed to suggest Hong Kong was still a bustling financial hub.
“As an international city, Hong Kong’s people have always been mobile,” the spokesperson said. “Over the past 10 years, net outflows of Hong Kong residents … have been recorded for most years.”
The spokesperson added that the issue of Covid-driven departures “could be resolved when quarantine and social distancing measures are relaxed”, and that the numbers would rise due to government efforts to attract overseas talent.
Since the law was introduced, many former protesters and lawmakers have fled abroad, fearing prosecution. Many individuals and families told CNN they were also considering leaving because they felt the city had been transformed beyond recognition.
In the aftermath of the protests, a number of countries, including the UK, Australia and Canada, 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 as restoring law and order to the city, saying 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 metropolis. , dynamic and business-friendly”. “