PROTESTS FORCING SOME SINGAPORE BUSINESS TO SHUT TEMPORARILY

BY MELISSA TAN AND FIONA CHAN, Straits Times

SOME Singapore firms with business in Hong Kong were forced to shut their outlets yesterday amid escalating protests.

DBS Group Holdings and OCBC Bank temporarily halted operations at some bank branches while retailers closed shop for the day.

The DBS branch at United Centre in the Admiralty district closed yesterday morning “due to instability” in the area, the lender said in a statement.

The Admiralty area, home to the government headquarters, is where demonstrations began on Sunday as part of Occupy Central, a civil disobedience movement to paralyse the roads and agitate for greater democracy.

Smaller protests have sprung up in the Causeway Bay shopping district and in Mongkok in Kowloon. DBS said later in the afternoon that it was suspending operations at three more branches – two in Causeway Bay and one in Mongkok “till further notice”.

OCBC, which completed its acquisition of Hong Kong’s Wing Hang bank in July, suspended operations at Wing Hang’s United Centre branch in the morning and temporarily closed its Mongkok Road branch yesterday afternoon.

Both measures were due to “traffic conditions in the area”, said Mr Patrick Chew, the bank’s head of operational risk management, in a statement. He added that the bank has set up an emergency hotline for customers.

Both DBS and OCBC said their other branches in Hong Kong continue to operate as usual.

Traditional Chinese medicine group Eu Yan Sang temporarily closed one store at Yee Wo Street in Causeway Bay yesterday.

“We are monitoring the situation,” said group chief executive Richard Eu. “We will close shops as necessary… Our concern for staff and customers’ safety will be of paramount importance.”

China’s Golden Week, a long holiday typically important for retailers, begins tomorrow but Mr Eu said that “a lot of our China-related business is transacted at our stores near the border with Shenzhen. We don’t know if the protests will extend to these suburban areas”.

Some Singapore firms have continued operating normally in Hong Kong’s downtown.

Mr Tan Tze Shang, regional general manager for greater China at hospitality group The Ascott, said the areas around its two serviced residences were “calm”. “We have tightened security measures at all our serviced residences… We have also updated our residents on the situation,” he said.

Mr Edlan Chua, chief operating officer of restaurant chain Paradise Group, said its restaurant in Causeway Bay has stayed open even though the number of customers has fallen 15 to 20 per cent because of the protests.

Food chain Ya Kun said its outlets have not been affected yet. “There’s been no visible impact on our branch in Tsim Sha Tsui,” said executive chairman Adrin Loi. “If worse comes to worst, we will close shop until everything gets back to normal.”

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