Strict COVID-19 policies drive people out of Hong Kong

Large numbers of people have left Hong Kong not only due to political unrest, but also strict COVID-19 policies. Over the past year, more than 100,000 people have left — a record.

The exodus includes many who work in business and banking, who form the lifeblood of the city. Hong Kong is one of the world’s most important financial hubs and the main pipeline for money moving in and out of Asia, especially China.

Multinational companies are looking elsewhere, too.

More than a third of the Hong Kong Investment Funds Association’s members say they have already moved jobs to other countries. They’re going places like Singapore, Dubai, Australia and Japan, said Sally Wong, CEO of the association.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Hong Kong hard. For a while this spring, it had the highest COVID-19 mortality rate on Earth. 

Things are much better now, but as the rest of the world moves on from the pandemic, people in Hong Kong still have to be fully masked and use an app-based control system that’s similar to mainland China’s. 

They have to scan into public places with a QR code, including restaurants, and new arrivals can’t enter restaurants at all for three days.

“This ability or the inability to travel freely in and out definitely affects Hong Kong,” said Wong. “We need to move back to normalcy, 100%.”

This week, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee made a pitch that he hopes will reverse the talent outflow, by offering open work visas to college graduates from abroad. 

But it may not be enough.

In spite of the damage to Hong Kong’s economy and reputation, political observers think nothing will change until Chinese leaders on the mainland, who call the shots in Hong Kong, lift their zero COVID policy, and so far there’s no sign of that. 

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