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Wednesday, October 1, 2014, 11:08

Protests endanger life and limb

By Ming Yeung and Wang Yuke in Hong Kong
Protests endanger life and limb

An ambulance is caught in a traffic jam near Admiralty due to the blockade caused by “Occupy” protests on the main street on Tuesday. (Roy Liu  / China Daily)

Road blocks set up by demonstrators continued to play havoc with local emergency services as disruptions to daily life in Hong Kong entered their third day on Tuesday.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Joseph Leung Wai-hung told the media on Tuesday that emergency services have fallen significantly short in their promise to reach those in dire need, that is, to respond to emergency situations within 12 minutes.

Leung said on ordinary days, emergency services are able to meet their service standards 92.5 percent of the times. Since the protests began, the number has fallen to between 60 and 75 percent, owing to the blockage of critical thoroughfares. The most serious delay to date was 43.5 minutes, he said.

“I’m very worried about the situation. As a provider of emergency services, every second counts. When there is a fire, a one-minute delay can mean the difference between a small fire and a large fire. For those who need medical attention, a one-minute delay can mean life or death,” he stressed.

Leung cited an example on Tuesday morning when a citizen twisted his ankle at Admiralty MTR Station. Unable to reach the scene by road, emergency responders had to ride the MTR from Central station, to return the patient to Central and then to the nearest hospital. It took 40 minutes.

Leung explained that the Fire Services Department has adopted a “duel dispatch” approach for ambulances to ensure an emergency vehicle reaches the scene as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, the practice leaves resources sorely depleted, should emergencies arise in other districts.

Wat Ki-on, secretary-general of the Fire Services Department Ambulancemen’s Union, said a large proportion of Kowloon’s ambulances have been deployed to Hong Kong Island, affecting ambulance service in other parts of the city.

“(We) have mobilized many ambulances from Kowloon to help with cases on Hong Kong Island. What to do with Kowloon’s cases? We asked for help from ambulances in the New Territories, leaving the New Territories short of resources to handle its cases,” Wat said.

Ambulances are equipped with GPS devices identifying the shortest and fastest routes to any emergency. If those routes are blocked by protesters, Wat said, there is no choice but for emergency responders to take a longer route.

Chan Shi-ki, chairman of the union, said he hoped the demonstrators could exercise their rights, while minimizing the disruption to the lives of others.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying acknowledged Tuesday morning that emergency services had been disrupted. He appealed to demonstrators to vacate some roads so that emergency vehicles could use them when necessary.

Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man also voiced concern about the continued blockages.

“From the medical point of view, whenever there is a massive gathering of people, there is always a risk,” Ko said.

One of the movement co-organizers Chan Kin-man said demonstrators would open a road for emergency vehicles to pass through but refused to retreat from the three main business areas where demonstrators are concentrated.

Cultural events canceled

Many cultural activities have been affected. An exhibition titled “Beautiful Images of the Belgian Comic Strip Center” co-organized by the Consulate General of Belgium in Hong Kong, the Belgian Comic Strip Center and Hong Kong Arts Centre, was canceled on Tuesday “due to the uncertain situation and traffic disruption in the Wan Chai district”.

The performance of the stage musical Mama Mia, organized by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions Ltd, was suspended Tuesday because of the closure of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts where the performance was to be held.

Organizers told China Daily that they are not sure whether the show will go forward on Wednesday evening. Ticket holders should be prepared to plan to see the performances at a later time.

The National Day fireworks display, scheduled on Oct 1, was canceled. The Sky100 Observation Deck, which originally offered packages for the public to enjoy a 360-degree view of the fireworks display, has canceled all bookings. Ticket holders are advised to contact Sky100 for refunds before Oct 30.

The Phantom of the Opera Inauguration Ceremony was canceled Monday at AsiaWorld-Expo, the world-class exhibition venue near Hong Kong International Airport.

The premiere was planned for the kick-off of the 10th anniversary of AsiaWorld-Expo. The event’s public relations manager Sadie Lam said organizers are still undecided whether to stage the premiere in October, but gave the reassurance Hong Kong audiences may still look forward to the program on Dec 21.

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