Chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that she did not order a day off for the city because there was no way for the government to judge the legal consequences of doing so.

Super Typhoon Mangkhut ravaged Hong Kong on Sunday with unprecedented force, and in the aftermath, commuters experienced long waits at transport hubs as some bus and rail routes were suspended. Speaking to the press, Lam said she was aware that workers faced obstacles during their daily commute on Monday.

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File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“We did not make a decision to order a day off, and this option was not one we considered,” Lam said. “We have no mechanism to assess the legal consequences of the government telling people to stop work.”

Guangzhou, Shenzhen and multiple cities in Guangdong province had ordered a work suspension for the general public while recovery efforts were in progress.

“I have heard voices from the public and a few political parties, but we have to consider the legal consequences and the effect on different industries,” Lam said, adding that she thought the government did not put citizens’ lives at risk.

Heng Fa Chuen Mangkhut aftermath
Dozens of trees were felled in Heng Fa Chuen during Mangkhut. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

On Monday morning, Lam urged employers to be considerate and added that workers should not be punished or have their pay docked if they show up to work late.

“[The government] would accept it if [civil servants] call their supervisors saying that they can’t go to work,” she said at the time. “I urge other employers to take the same considerate and flexible measures.”

When asked about the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which might form the legal basis for ordering a public holiday, Lam said she did not think the option was appropriate.

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Commuters at Tai Wai Station. Photo: HKFP/Jennifer Creery.

Lam also said that the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge did not suffer any structural damage during the typhoon, which she described as comforting.

Public anger

On Monday evening, many commuters and office workers took to the internet to air their frustrations. Lam said it was fine to vent their frustrations at her, but she would not make a decision without a legal basis.

“I saw all the photos and videos – some of which were quite creative – and I can empathise that people who waited at the train stations for a long time… became angry and dissatisfied,” Lam said on Tuesday.

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An online meme reading, “Where is the MTR station?”

In response, vice-chairman of the Democratic Party Lo Kin-hei issued a blistering attack on Lam. Both the Democratic Party and the Civic Party had been calling for a day off for the general public.

“Why are you talking about law when people ask you to give a day off to non-emergency-service civil servants? Is there a law that says an employer cannot tell employees that they don’t need to go to work?” Lo wrote.

Lam’s decision even drew criticism from pro-establishment parties, with Gary Chan of the DAB saying that the government was disconnected from reality. Stanley Ng of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions also said the government had underestimated the extent of damage to public transport.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.