Expats in Hong Kong speak of harsh living conditions

  • empty street in Hong Kong
Published on 2022-04-19 at 12:00 by Sophie Hoy
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hong Kong has introduced strict entry conditions like a three-week quarantine on arrival in huge quarantine centers and hotels requisitioned by the authorities. Meanwhile, residents are finding their living conditions even tougher living conditions, being isolated since a fifth wave hit the city. According to EU representative Thomas Gnocchi, 10% of Europeans have already left Hong Kong last February, and figures have been rising ever since.

While Canada seems to be one of the favourite destinations for expatriates leaving Hong Kong, many simply return to their home country permanently. So what has triggered the expat exodus in Hong Kong?

Strict measures are pushing people away

The government's zero Covid strategy is one of the main reasons for these departures. Hong Kong has some of the world's strictest social distancing measures and Covid restrictions. An expat recalls how her sick mother, aged 93, was isolated for three weeks without being able to take a shower or receive visitors. “This is totally inhumane,” she says.

Currently, gatherings of more than two people are prohibited in public places. Bars and restaurants close at 6 p.m., distance learning has been set up for schools, the airport is closed for 14 days if 3 or more Covid cases are detected, and mass screening results in the closure of entire neighbourhoods. Locals and residents alike have had enough of this situation and are desperate to leave. One of the reasons is that locking down entire areas where there have been positive Covid-19 cases has led to immediate quarantine. In some cases, children have been separated from their parents. For expats, this is totally unacceptable, so they are looking to move out of Hong Kong to protect their families from such measures.

Expats leave hastily

Mathilde, who has lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, testified to AFP. She agrees that her departure was hasty: "We have made up our minds to leave, and we will come back to empty our house whenever possible. We want to get our children out of here above all. For the rest, we'll see later. All our close friends are leaving".

Stéphane, another expat, has lived in the city for 7 years. He chose to return to France until the situation improves in Hong Kong. "We left our apartment with a few suitcases, hoping to be able to return by summer. »

Antoine does not live in Hong Kong, but he shares the same views. It's been only 3 months since he arrived in China, but he does not intend to stay as the current situation is hardly manageable for him. : "I spent a month deciding to come. I wasn't scared by the work, the project or the move in itself, but rather by the living conditions here. And I was totally right to worry. That's clearly what I'm going through today! This is why (and also considering other criteria) I'm looking to leave as soon as my project is finished". Clearly, Antoine has had a bad experience.

After staying in Hong Kong for 10 years, Lucie also chose to leave: "Hong Kong is no longer that bustling city we used to know, and the government is imposing such drastic measures that I'm scared of being locked up in a quarantine centre. I could never have imagined such a thing happening. »

According to many testimonies published in the international media, expats are leaving Hong Kong with only a few belongings and hoping for better days so that they can return at some point in time. But some are also selling or letting their belongings for economic reasons or to accelerate their departure.

High return costs 

Today, moving has an astronomical cost -- a four times rise has been recorded in less than a year. And yet, container bookings have also quadrupled compared to the same period in 2021. This has an impact on waiting times on departure, that is, to get flight tickets and to collect goods on arrival, which can last for months. All this looks like a real struggle to expats.

How does this affect Hong Kong's economy?

Despite the decrease in the number of flights, cancellations and postponements due to health restrictions, there were more than 3,000 daily departures from Hong Kong at the beginning of March, in contrast with 500 arrivals. International media also talk of multinationals relocating from Hong Kong. According to media reports, a quarter of foreign companies plan to leave Hong Kong and 40% of expats surveyed by the various chambers of commerce wish to leave. Economists and entrepreneurs are worried about these unprecedented figures, but the local authorities are trying to reassure them, indicating that the country is still full of local and foreign talents.

Still, where some chose to escape, although they still believe in the measure implemented by the local government, despite the harsh restrictions. They have decided to live with it and are simply waiting for the storm to calm.

(See also: China's zero Covid policy is a headache for expats

For now, it's different to judge who is right and who is not. For sure, expats in Hong Kong will have to bear with the situation until they can breathe again.