Hong Kong Under ‘De Facto Curfew’ as Subway Stations Shut Early
Hong Kong’s subway system has closed early for more than a week, effectively cutting off the main mode of transportation for millions of residents. Many are now wondering how long it will last.
Following unprecedented vandalism on the night of Oct. 4, when Chief Executive Carrie Lam banned face masks after invoking emergency powers last used in 1967, many stations were left in tatters. The rail operator MTR Corp. shut the entire network for a whole day for the first time since 2007 before gradually reopening damaged stations.
MTR has said it needs extra time to repair its stations. But as the service keeps getting curtailed, protesters have accused the company of helping the authorities prevent further demonstrations. In recent statements on its website, the MTR has cited a “joint risk assessment with other relevant government departments” as a reason for the closures.
“Hong Kong has a de facto curfew,” said a medical professional with the surname Wong, who said his commute from Kowloon City to Tin Shui Wai near the Chinese border recently took him 3.5 hours when an early closure prevented him from taking the subway. “It is not enforced by law, but by a monopoly on transportation.”
For most of the time since protests against China’s increasing grip over Hong Kong began in early June, it was entirely possible for many city residents to continue their daily lives uninterrupted apart from some inconvenience during the weekends. But the disruption to the MTR, the lifeblood of the city, has started to alter life in the Asian financial hub.
The subway handles roughly 5.9 million daily passengers in a city of around 7.5 million. Even though many stations have reopened, they still have extensive damage to escalators, turnstiles, security cameras and ticket machines.
In an emailed response to questions, Hong Kong’s Transport and Housing Bureau called the subway “the backbone of the city’s public transport network” and “of paramount importance.”
The MTR “has taken all possible means to ensure railway safety while striving to maintain train service as far as possible,” the bureau said. The company’s arrangements “cannot in any way be equated or compared with the imposition of curfew.”