Hong Kong departures climb to pandemic high as residents flee

The recent surge in people crossing into the mainland underscores the city's fading appeal as the number of infections soars. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong recorded 27,703 departures from the city in the week ended Feb 20, pushing the weekly net outflow of people to its highest level since the Asian financial hub imposed strict quarantine measures at the start of the pandemic, according to government data.

Of those who left last week, 72 per cent departed through the airport, with the rest via the two crossings to mainland China that are currently open, according to Hong Kong Immigration Department figures.

While thousands of residents have been steadily leaving Hong Kong in the last two years due to the city's Covid-zero measures and the ongoing political crackdown, the recent surge in people crossing into the mainland underscores the city's fading appeal as the number of infections soars.

A net 21,698 people left the city last week, compared with a net inflow of 11,461 people in the same week last year. The total number of departures in the week ended Feb 20 increased 37 per cent from the week before.

On Sunday, the city reported more than 6,000 daily infections for a second day in a row, with the government signaling that even tighter social restrictions are under consideration.

Current restrictions include a two-person outdoor gathering limit, a night-time ban on dining-in in restaurants and gym closures. Inbound travel also continues to be tightly restricted, with bans on flights from nine countries including the UK and US and on transit travel from everywhere except Taiwan and mainland China.

Hong Kong saw a record outflow of 89,200 residents in 2021, leaving its population at about 7.39 million, according to government data. That maintains the 1.2 per cent rate of population decline set at the end of 2020, the biggest drop in at least six decades. The city's government attributed the drop in part to fewer people coming to work and study due to strict border controls.

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