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Hong Kong retailers shutter stores as protest intensity heightens

With public transport being disrupted almost daily for the last week or more, retailers are closing stores not just because of protests but because to ensure the welfare of their staff. 

With the anti-extradition bill protests entering their fifth month, the last four days have seen some of the most destructive and disruptive activity yet. 

On Saturday, protesters, enraged by a government ban on citizens wearing masks, caused the closure of the entire MTR network for the first time in its 40-year history. 

Retail chains identified by protesters as having pro-Beijing links or who oppose the protest activity have been attacked with store windows smashed, and interiors flooded or trashed – but without any sign of looting of stock. 

Over the long weekend, those chains included fast-food chain Yoshinoya, Best Mart 360 and stores operated by Maxim’s, including a Starbucks in Wan Chai. Maxim’s was chosen after Annie Wu Suk-ching, the founder’s daughter, described protesters as “rioters” adding they did not represent true Hongkongers. But the woman does not work for Maxim’s and has no influence on the company’s management.

Banks were also impacted with a spokesman for the Hong Kong Monetary Authority estimating about 10 per cent of the city’s 3300 ATMs were out of service due to vandalism. 

That damage promoted something of a run on ATMS with people queuing to remove cash in case more machines were disabled. 

The Labour Department has at least twice in the last three days urged employers to make flexible work arrangements for staff having regard to traffic and road conditions likely occurring during the day. 

“For staff who cannot report to work on time on account of conditions in road traffic or public transport services, employers should give due consideration to the circumstances of individual employees and handle each case flexibly,” a spokesman said.

Mannings closed its stores at 2pm on Saturday “for the safety of our customers and our team members” and Wellcome supermarkets were closed at 5pm for the same reason. 

One retailer with about five stores across Hong Kong Island who closed stores on Saturday and Sunday said staff welfare was her primary concern. “The hardest part about this whole thing is making sure our staff are safe and can get home quickly and safely,” she said. 

Even convenience-store chain 7-Eleven – famous for continuing to trade even through typhoons – closed some of its stores for periods over the weekend. 

On Sunday, shoppers queued to get into grocery stores and supermarkets with evidence of panic buying, fearing further store closures or transport disruption. There were reports of people waiting 45 minutes in checkout queues. Many stores ran out of fresh foods.

“Staff said that they opened for a half day on Saturday and did not have time to stock up new supplies because of the chaos all over Hong Kong,” a housewife identified as ‘Mrs Ma’ told the South China Morning Post. “I am not sure if people have overreacted. But I have never seen this in my life. It is like wartime. I saw people even stock up on toilet paper.”

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