A man, right, walks past Tamar Park in Admiralty with the skyline of Hong Kong's financial district, on April 9, 2018. (Photo: AFP)
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said the recent recurrence of street violence may undermine the local economy's slow recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
He urged residents to express their opinions in ways that do not harm the interests of others, as frequent protests in major shopping malls were harming business at the struggling local outlets.
In his official blog on Sunday, Chan noted that many residents have made plans to gather with their families in restaurants or other activities for Mother's Day, and the spurt in business should come as a welcome relief for many shops and eateries that have endured the lockdown, which is only now beginning to loosen.
If businesses can gradually return to normal and when the government's relief measures begin to take effect, the economy will improve in the third quarter of this year, Chan said.
Recovery is urgently needed as the latest figures show that the total revenue of the catering business shrank a record 31 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020. Many restaurants are not earning enough to cover their operating costs, Chan said.
But hope for better times could be dashed by renewed social unrest, forcing shops and restaurants to shut to avoid damage caused by the eruption of violence in the streets outside. A resurgence of street violence could kill the economy's only chance to recover from the unprecedented recession, Chan said.
Over the past weekend, groups of protesters, responding to rallying calls online, staged a series of "hit-and-run protests" in different shopping malls across the territory. They occupied the entrances and atria of malls, waving banners and chanting slogans.
Some restaurants and shops were closed at lunchtime as crowds assembled over the weekend. In response to residents' reports, the police arrived at the scene to maintain order and urged the crowd to disperse.
At least one person was arrested at a shopping mall in Mong Kok on Sunday afternoon. The police seized gasoline, towels, and several lighters — all common ingredients used to make and ignite gasoline bombs.
Police said they did not rule out the possibility that the objects were prepared for attacks during the demonstration.
"It is infuriating that il-intentioned parties, using different excuses, have incited others to commit acts that would ruin the holiday mood, and endanger public safety," the police said in an online statement on Saturday.
The police reiterated that it is an offense for anyone to organize or participate in illegal gatherings. A government regulation also prohibits any group gathering of more than eight people in public places from Friday until May 21 as part of the social distancing rules to reduce the chance of coronavirus infections.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung in his blog urged young people to cherish their future and not to be incited by others to commit crimes, as he also noticed signs of violence looming over the city.
Cheung, the city's No 2 official, said young people can easily be misled into committing crimes because they are not aware of the serious consequences of their illegal actions. Society must embrace positive values and do its utmost to curb violence, he said.
Hong Kong has seen no new locally transmitted infections for 21 straight days. In the past weekend, the city recorded three imported COVID-19 infections, bringing the tally to 1,047.