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Hong Kong population drops for 3rd year under COVID shadow

Fewer professionals entered the territory while younger workers migrated overseas

People walk across a busy street at the Causeway Bay shopping district. Hong Kong’s government announced that the territory's population dropped for a third straight year.   © AP

HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong's government announced Thursday that the territory's population dropped for a third straight year as deaths rose during the pandemic and anti-virus measures reduced the number of arriving workers, but did not mention an exodus of residents sparked by a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.

The city's population declined 0.9% to 7.3 million at the end of 2022 from a year earlier, according to provisional data released by the Census and Statistics Department. It said there was a net outflow of 60,000 residents, with 21,200 new residents arriving.

For much of the pandemic, Hong Kong followed mainland China's stringent "zero COVID" strategy, deterring professionals from moving into the international financial hub. Its population decline has been exacerbated by a growing number of young professionals leaving for Britain, the United States and other countries in response to the erosion of Hong Kong's Western-style civil liberties after a harsh new National Security Law silenced or jailed dissidents.

Thursday's announcement gave no clue regarding how many people had left for political reasons but said there was a slight rebound in inflows near the end of last year after officials gradually relaxed anti-virus controls.

"We noticed that the population decrease in the second half of 2022 has narrowed when compared to that in the first half, reflecting that movement of the Hong Kong population has begun to resume normal gradually," the statement said.

The government predicted that factors hindering workers from moving to Hong Kong will dissipate after the resumption of restriction-free travel with mainland China and elsewhere.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee has rolled out various measures aimed at attracting at least 35,000 professionals each year between 2023 and 2025.

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