Hong Kong’s population fell by 1.6 percent year-on-year, according to mid-year statistics released by the Census and Statistics Department on Thursday.
This raises concerns about an exodus of Hongkongers and talents amid the city’s shrinking freedoms and strict Covid-19 policies.
The department noted that the provisional estimate of the city’s population was 7,291,600 at mid-2022, representing a decrease of 121,500 from a year ago.
The rate of decrease has also gone up from 0.9 percent in mid-2021 to the current 1.6 percent.
The department said the downturn comprised a natural decrease – meaning deaths surpassing births – and a net outflow of Hong Kong residents.
A natural decrease of 26,500 was recorded during the period, with 35,100 births and 61,600 deaths.
Over the same period, a net outflow of 95,000 persons was recorded, with an inflow of 18,300 one-way permit holders — residents of mainland China who leave the mainland permanently to settle in Hong Kong to be with family — and a net outflow of 113,200 other Hong Kong residents.
The revised figure for the year-end population for 2021 was 7,401,500, while the rate of change in population from end-2020 to end-2021 remained at -0.3 percent.
A government spokesman highlighted that the natural decrease has widened between mid-2021 and mid-2022.
He noted that the number of births declined continually from 59,500 between mid-2016 and mid-2017 to 35,100 between mid-2021 and mid-2022, with Hong Kong’s fertility rate persistently among the lowest in Asian economies.
“The plunge in births in the recent two years might also be attributable to the outbreak of Covid-19 since early 2020. On the other hand, the number of deaths edged up gradually from 45,400 to 61,600 over the past five years in tandem with the ageing trend of the population,” he said.
On the net outflow of Hong Kong residents, the spokesman said: “Amidst the continued impact of Covid-19, stringent border control and quarantine measures have been in place in Hong Kong, the mainland and other places around the world, resulting in severe interruption of cross-boundary travel. It is observed that the inflow of people into Hong Kong, including one-way permit holders and foreign domestic helpers, has remained at a low level.”
He added: “Among others, the flight boarding restrictions imposed on arrivals from certain places from time to time between mid-2021 and mid-2022 due to the then prevailing Covid-19 situation had interrupted population inflow. Although the number of one-way permit holders who arrived in Hong Kong between mid-2021 and mid-2022 (18,300) rebounded somewhat as compared to that in the preceding year (13,900), it was still visibly lower than the pre-pandemic level (44,400 between mid-2018 and mid-2019).”
Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents who had left before the pandemic may have chosen to reside in other places temporarily or were unable to return, he said.
“It is believed that the pandemic and the related quarantine requirements would have impacted talent inflow, especially those on short-term employment visas/entry permits,” the spokesman said.
But he added that this problem could be resolved when the quarantine and social distancing measures relaxed.
The spokesperson also said that net movement includes the movement of Hong Kong residents into and out of the city for various purposes such as work, study and migration, but the breakdown of figures is not available.
Hong Kong residents traveling abroad are not required to declare to the government their purpose of travel, therefore the government does not have direct statistics on emigration, he added.
“Being an international city, Hong Kong’s population has always been mobile. During the past 10 years, net outflows of Hong Kong residents other than one-way permit holders were recorded for most of the years.”
Hong Kong’s population has been on a generally increasing trend from 6,516,700 in 1997 to a peak of 7,520,500 at year-end in 2019.
The current 7,291,600 is the lowest since 2016.
Critics have said the continual drop in population is caused by the city’s shrinking freedoms and strict Covid-19 measures.