Hong Kong police cut short a protest against plans to set up a clinic for suspected coronavirus patients in Tai Po on Sunday, firing pepper spray and making several arrests.
Dozens had gathered to oppose a government plan to convert Tai Po Jockey Club General Out-patient Clinic into one of 18 designated clinics to treat people with symptoms of Covid-19. The proposal has been criticised for being located in a residential area with a high population density.
Residents in other districts including Tuen Mun and Kennedy Town have previously protested against plans to set up such clinics in their neighbourhoods.
First detected in Wuhan, China, Covid-19 has killed 3,500 people and infected at least 105,000 globally. The novel virus has killed two and infected 109 in Hong Kong as of Sunday morning.
Crowds started to gather at around 2:30pm in preparation to march from Tin Hau Temple Feng Shui Square opposite the designated clinic at 3pm.
At around 3:15pm, riot police pepper-sprayed District Councillor for Chung Ting, Man Nim-chi, for allegedly failing to comply with orders to back away during a dispersal operation.
District Councillor for Tai Po Hui Nick Lam told HKFP that Man had arrived early to monitor any potential unreasonable arrests: “The police went overboard,” Lam said. “The protest had barely started before the clearance operation.”
Police searched several young men wearing black and asked them to remove their face masks.
Officers set up multiple cordon lines and held up blue warning flags, declaring the scene to be an unlawful assembly.
A middle-aged woman was taken away by the police near the car park of Treasure Garden, a private housing estate. An officer said she had provoked the crowd and failed to leave after three verbal warnings.
Moments later, an officer told an observer standing on a platform at the housing estate to stop arguing with him and leave. He then told his colleague to aim a pepper ball at her, though the launcher was not fired.
At around 3:50pm, crowds started marching on On Chi Road, chanted slogans including “No rioters, only tyrannical regimes,” “Disband the police force,” “Hongkongers, avenge,” “Five demands, not one less,” “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”
The crowd later walked along On Cheung Road, where protesters threw a rubbish bin and other objects onto the road to block the traffic at roughly 4:10pm. At least two were subsequently arrested. Several passersby and reporters fell amid the skirmish.
Riot police officers displayed a blue flag again and pepper-sprayed a Now TV cameraman, according to United Social Press. Several bystanders, medics and journalists were also hit with the chemical agent.
Multiple nearby stores rolled down their shutters and temporarily closed during the standoff.