The city’s total population fell to 7.29 million from 7.41 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 also reflect an exodus that has accelerated during a period of massive social upheaval in the past few years that has included anti-government protests and the coronavirus pandemic. .
About 113,200 residents left Hong Kong in the past year, the department said, compared with 89,200 the previous year. These figures include expatriates and other permanent residents.
Throughout the pandemic, experts and industry leaders have warned that the city’s Covid-19 restrictions will alienate residents, commuters and commuters.
Mask orders remain in place, while public spaces such as beaches and gyms are closed for long periods during periods of high cases.
The group’s CEO George Leung added that closing Hong Kong’s borders “shrinks any chance of economic recovery” and urged authorities to set a “solid timetable for Hong Kong’s reopening”.
The government acknowledged the impact of its policies, saying on Thursday that flight restrictions – such as requiring all arrivals to be vaccinated, test negative for Covid and pay for hotel quarantine on arrival – had “disrupted the flow of population”.
This week the government reduced the quarantine requirement, with the number of arrivals required to stay in designated hotels from seven to three.
The government has said some Hong Kongers may have chosen to relocate during the pandemic.
“Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents who left Hong Kong before the pandemic may have chosen to temporarily live elsewhere or were unable to return to Hong Kong. All of these (factors) may have contributed to the net outflow of Hong Kong residents over the period,” a government spokesman said.
But the government downplays the decline in population, and it appears that Hong Kong is still a troubled 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 … was the highest recorded in many years.”
The spokeswoman added that the problem of Covid-driven departures could be resolved “when quarantine and social distancing measures are relaxed,” and that government efforts to attract foreign talent would increase the numbers.
Since the law came into effect, 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.
Following the protests, several countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, opened new visa routes for Hong Kong people. 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 a bid to restore law and order in the city, claiming Hong Kong’s freedoms of speech, press and assembly are intact.
The security law has “quickly and effectively restored stability and security,” the government said on July 29, adding that residents were “relieved and happy to see that Hong Kong is now an open, safe, vibrant and business-friendly metropolis.”