HONG KONG: As Hong Kong grapples with a worsening Covid-19 outbreak and fears of a full lockdown grow, some mainland university students are fleeing the city.
Hong Kong has seen record daily case numbers in the latest wave, though infections fell below 40,000 on Saturday for the first time since Tuesday, with 150 deaths reported.
Hospitals and mortuaries are overwhelmed, people are panic buying, and mass testing of the city's 7.4 million residents is planned.
For university students, classes and exams are being held online - an arrangement that will continue until at least the end of this semester. Universities have also asked students to move out of dormitories if they can as a precautionary measure.
Hong Kong is a popular destination for students from the mainland. Many come to the city for postgraduate studies, seeking a degree that will be more internationally recognised, or wanting to broaden their network to advance their careers.
There were about 40,000 mainland students enrolled in tertiary courses in the city at the end of 2019, according to the latest available data from the Hong Kong government.
But as the pandemic situation in the Asian financial hub deteriorates, some are now choosing to continue their studies by distance on the mainland - where the virus has been largely under control - even if it means spending weeks in quarantine.
Zoey Chen, 23, started a master's in linguistics at City University of Hong Kong in September.
She left the city last week and is currently in hotel quarantine over the border in Dongguan, Guangdong province. Chen plans to go back to her hometown in Hubei when she is released from quarantine.
"I decided to go back to the mainland after our university said classes would be conducted via Zoom for the whole semester," Chen said. "I didn't want to delay it any longer because I was worried that with the worsening situation in Hong Kong the mainland border could suddenly close."
The shift to online learning and a fear of getting stuck in Hong Kong also prompted Wang Wuyou to make the move back home two weeks ago. The 22-year-old is in the final semester of a master's in engineering, also at CityU.
"You don't know if you're going to be exposed to the virus in Hong Kong. And also I was concerned that Hong Kong might impose a lockdown all of a sudden that would mean I wouldn't be able to go back to the mainland," Wang said from hotel quarantine in Shanghai. "That could affect my job-hunting plans."
Both Wang and Chen said most of their mainland classmates had headed home.
But some mainland students, like Linda Xi, have chosen to stay in Hong Kong.
Xi, 22, said it was a no-brainer after she was offered an internship by a non-governmental organisation in the city.
"I'd like to experience more of Hong Kong through this internship and then decide whether to go back to the mainland or not," said Xi, who is studying for a master's in international journalism at Baptist University.
She was also concerned that learning online may not be as effective over an extended period.
And having studied in Singapore previously, Xi said she felt less concerned about the Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong.
"I've lived in a foreign country during the pandemic, on my own," she said. "So I would say I'm feeling relatively calm at the moment."