Hong Kong commuters faced major disruptions Monday morning, as most of the city’s trains were brought to a standstill and hundreds of flights were cancelled by protesters staging a general strike.
Although demonstrations have rocked the city for two months, Monday’s strike was one of the most disruptive to daily life to date. Businesses across the Asian financial hub shut as workers struggled to make it to the office due to transportation disruptions.
Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) website showed seven lines out of service during the morning rush hour, including the Island Line, which cuts through the city’s government and financial districts.
Shops in several MTR stations had metal gates pulled down over them and remained closed during the morning commute. At several stations, protesters in black shirts and face masks blocked carriage doors to delay the trains from leaving. In one station, a man laid down across the carriage entrance to keep the doors from shutting.
Traffic was blocked on several major thoroughfares. A South China Morning Post reporter posted a video on Twitter of protesters blocking the Cross-Harbor Tunnel, a key tunnel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
The Airport Express — the train linking the city’s business district to the airport — was also out of service. Hong Kong’s flagship airline, Cathay Pacific, advised passengers to postpone non-essential travel to another day. Hong Kong Airport’s website showed more than 120 departing flights and at 100 arrival flights cancelled.
The city’s Hang Seng Index was down almost 3% by the lunchtime trading break.
Major malls on Hong Kong Island opened for the day, but customer service representatives said that some stores would open late or not at all. In Pacific Place, a luxury mall adjacent to a protest hotspot, retailers Zara and the North Face were closed. One independent clothing boutique nearby was shuttered with a sign on the door reading, “Pray for Hong Kong! We are not working on 5/8!”
Not everyone was trying to get to work on Monday. Several professionals took the day to join the strike. One major law firm with offices in the city told employees they were welcome to hold their own views on the issue, but if they wanted to strike they would need to take a day of annual leave.
The city’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, called a press conference Monday morning, after largely remaining out of public view for the past two weeks. She urged protesters to restore order in the city, and said the strike was causing anxiety for Hong Kongers. “Some of them do not know whether they could still take some forms of public transport while others are right now being blocked on the way to work.”
— With reporting by Hillary Leung.