Coronavirus latest: Morgan Stanley’s Hong Kong summit goes virtual amid virus fears

Drop in visitors to Hong Kong highlights growing economic woes

Hong Kong has reported a sharp drop in the number of people arriving from mainland China and abroad, underscoring the heavy toll the coronavirus outbreak has had on the territory’s economy.

The number of visitors from mainland China tumbled to just 643 on Monday, compared with almost 37,000 on January 24, the earliest day in which data are available on the Hong Kong Immigration Department website.

Hong Kong’s decision, effective February 8, to force all people entering from mainland China to undergo a mandatory 14 day quarantine triggered an immediate and steep decline in the number of people arriving from the mainland.

Would-be visitors coming from other countries have also shunned the city — one of the world’s financial capitals and a gateway for many to other parts of Asia. Total visits by those coming from abroad registered just 2,368 on Monday, a tenth of the January 24 count.

Visitor numbers to Hong Kong had already fallen significantly on the effects of months of often violent protests that scared away tourists from the mainland and elsewhere.

The figures on the fall in recent weeks corroborate anecdotal accounts of residents and visitors who say shops, restaurants and public transit remain far less busy than usual for this time of year. Passengers who enter through the airport are subject to temperature checks and repeated announcements warning of fines for people who are not truthful in disclosing their travel history.

Hong Kong has confirmed 62 cases of Covid-19, with two individuals having died of the disease. The second death, a 70-year-old, was reported on Wednesday.

The fall in visitor arrivals underscores the economic pain that the Covid-19 outbreak has already caused for Hong Kong. Tourists spent some HK$328bn ($42bn) in 2018, according to the city’s tourism board.

Hong Kong’s “high dependence” on tourism revenue — the industry accounts for 9.4 per cent of gross domestic product — is one reason Hong Kong “stands as the most vulnerable economy in Asia ex-Japan to Covid-19”, according to economists at Nomura. They note that tourism from mainland China accounts for 78 per cent of the tourism industry’s contribution to GDP.

The Japanese bank expects the Hong Kong economy to contract 4.5 per cent in the first quarter from the same period last year. That would mark a third-straight quarter of contraction for an economy that was already reeling from clashes between protestors and police and US-China trade tensions.

Analysts at Moody’s, the ratings firm, added: “The outbreak comes at a time when the Hong Kong economy is already fragile due to the slowdown in global trade, softer growth in mainland China, and ongoing protests, which have hit retail and tourism hardest.”

Moody’s expects Hong Kong’s GDP to contract 1.2 per cent this year, matching the decline in output recorded in 2019.

(Special thank you to contributor coolsunwind, who wrote a code that scrapes the passenger traffic data).

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