Hong Kong suffers record fall in population as people flee zero-Covid curbs

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Pedestrians cross a road in the Causeway Bay area in Hong Kong, China - Billy H.C. Kwok /Bloomberg
Pedestrians cross a road in the Causeway Bay area in Hong Kong, China - Billy H.C. Kwok /Bloomberg

Hong Kong has suffered the sharpest population drop on record as people flee political crackdowns and its stringent Covid policies.

The city lost 113,200 residents in the year to June, leaving its population at 7.3m, according to data released by its government.

The 1.6pc fall was the biggest in at least six decades, and marked the third consecutive year of declining population.

The pace was about a third higher than the previous year, when 89,200 residents left.

A spokesperson said “stringent border control and quarantine measures” had disrupted migration in and out of the city, noting that inflows of residents had dwindled to “low levels”.

An exodus from Hong Kong has gathered place in response to tight pandemic controls and a crackdown on democracy by city leaders.

Carrie Lam, its former chief executive, introduced tight measures to contain the spread of the pandemic, including internment in government-run camps for people who tested positive.

It has maintained a three-day hotel quarantine for new arrivals, even as many other countries have allowed such policies to lapse.

Restrictions and a declining population have taken a toll on Hong Kong’s economy, which was 1.4pc smaller in the three months to June than a year before. Economists expect the city’s output to barely rise this year as global demand cools and tourism remains disrupted.

The top listed destinations for Hong Kongers leaving the city were Australia, Portugal and Canada.

Many have also fled to Britain to escape draconian security laws introduced in June 2020, a sign of Beijing’s growing grip over the city.

As of July, over 123,000 eligible Hong Kongers and their families had applied for British National (Overseas) status, allowing them to live and work in the UK.

There was also a  26,500-person natural decrease in population, reflecting the gap between birth and deaths.

Officials noted: “Hong Kong’s fertility rate is persistently among the lowest in Asian economies”, but suggested the decline “might also be attributable to the outbreak of Covid-19”.