Hong Kong protests: Cross-Harbour Tunnel could reopen in a week, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung says

Tony Cheung

Hong Kong’s Cross-Harbour Tunnel could reopen by the end of next week, according to the city’s No 2 official.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said various government departments mobilised about 380 people on Friday to start repairs and maintenance on the tunnel, which had been closed and vandalised by anti-government protesters.

The radical activists severely damaged the Hung Hom entrance of the tunnel, throwing petrol bombs at toll booths and setting fire to a footbridge linking Polytechnic University and Hung Hom MTR station.

Repair and clearance work at the toll booths of the tunnel. Photo: Handout

Speaking on a Commercial Radio programme on Saturday, Cheung said fire-prevention, ventilation and other monitoring systems of the tunnel were all damaged, but the government had been doing its “very best” to reopen the main artery linking Hung Hom and Causeway Bay next week.

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He added that, starting from Monday, free ferry services between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon would run more frequently, with bigger boats taking commuters from Hung Hom or Kowloon City to Wan Chai, before the tunnel is back in action.

“The administrative building of the tunnel was like a battlefield … and 80 per cent of the monitoring screens there were destroyed,” he said.

Workers resurfacing the badly damaged ground at the tunnel toll booths. Photo: Handout

“But we want to speed things up, so originally it would take law enforcement agencies one and a half days to gather evidence, now they finished it in a day.”

Cheung added that officers from various authorities, including the highways, architectural, and mechanical services departments, as well as the tunnel’s operator, had finished checking the level of damage on Friday.

“The repairs and maintenance work started last night. About 380 people from different departments have been rushing against the clock to do this,” he said.

“We will have a better idea on Monday about when the tunnel can be reopened. But we aim to do it later in the week.”

Workers clean a damaged footbridge at the tunnel. Photo: Handout

Cheung said that, apart from repairing the systems, parts of the highway leading to the tunnel also need to be repaired.

He said the government would allow temporary free use of the tunnel if repairs to the toll booths took longer than the work on the rest of the system.

Chief Secretary for Administration, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, photographed speaking on the Commercial Radio 1 programme, at the Commercial Radio, Kowloon Tong. 23NOV19 SCMP/ Jonathan Wong

“If that is the case, it will only be a short period of time. Maybe a day or two,” he said.

Since the tunnel was shut down, the government has been providing hourly, free-of-charge ferry services from Wan Chai to Hung Hom and Kowloon City.

Commuters queue for the ferry to Hung Hom at the Wan Chai Ferry Pier. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Cheung noted that the services had been popular, and the ferries packed, especially during rush hour.

“We will arrange larger ferries to run on those routes, and aim at increasing the number of journeys so that ferries can run on those routes every 20 minutes,” he pledged.

The tunnel had been out of action since Wednesday last week, when protesters put up barricades of chairs, tables and boards commandeered from the neighbouring Polytechnic University campus.

From Sunday evening, police surrounded the campus following a day of extremely violent clashes which the force declared a riot.

Toll booths on the Hung Hom side of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, next to PolyU, were badly damaged by radicals occupying the campus. Photo: Winson Wong

About 1,000 people have walked off the site through police checkpoints since then. Among them, roughly 300 were aged below 18. Officers recorded their personal information before they were allowed to go home. The rest were arrested. On Saturday morning, dozens remained on the campus.

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