A Taipei restaurant run by Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and supporters has been forced to halt operations after it was badly damaged in a fire in the early hours of Friday.
The incident came just days after the restaurant announced it will only operate as an online store from the end of the month, and as restaurants in Taipei struggle in the face of strict pandemic regulations which limited restaurants to takeaway orders only.
Staff present at the restaurant on Friday told HKFP that the cause of the fire was unclear as authorities continue to investigate. They also said they were unsure when they could resume operations.
The blaze, which broke out at around 3:30 a.m., destroyed all stock, fittings and machinery in its stock room, the Aegis restaurant said in a Facebook announcement.
“Luckily, we are all fine, but our hard-earned efforts have been reduced to ashes!” staff wrote.
An acrid scent lingered on the side-street where the restaurant stands on Friday. The shutter of the restaurants’ stock room was badly charred while the restaurant appeared to have suffered smoke damage but remained largely intact. Pro-democracy paraphernalia was still visible from its windows.
The fire was reported at 3:52 a.m. and extinguished within twenty minutes. The damage was contained within an area of 5 square metres, the Taipei City Fire Department said on Friday.
“After a preliminary investigation, we have not found special factors such as man-made ones,” a spokesperson told HKFP in an email statement, adding that electronic factors are suspected of causing the blaze. The department is currently investigating the incident in collaboration with the police.
The incident comes less than a year after the restaurant was trashed with chicken manure last October, only seven months after it first opened.
Last week the restaurant announced it will cease its dining operations by the end of the month due to flagging business during Taiwan’s first Covid outbreak in the past three months.
Instead, it announced it will produce and sell pre-packaged Hong Kong-styled dishes through an online store. The store began taking customer orders last Thursday.
The restaurant said on Friday it has suspended all online orders and will refund all purchases.
Taipei relaxed strict Covid-19 regulations on the city’s businesses in recent weeks, as its first major outbreak that began in late May subsides.
Aegis, a restaurant founded by pro-democracy lawyer and district councillor Daniel Wong in March 2020, was set up to provide support and employment to newly-arrived Hong Kong protesters in Taiwan.
Wong, who remains in Hong Kong, was arrested by national security officers in January on the suspicion of helping 12 pro-democracy activists in their bid to escape to Taiwan and has been released on bail.
The incident comes as more Hongkongers leave the city for Taiwan under the Beijing-imposed national security law. Official figures show 3,983 Hongkongers applied for Taiwan resident visas in the first five months of 2021, marking a 44.1 per cent increase from the same period in 2020, before the security law was enacted.
Update 20.08.21: This article has been updated to include the Taipei City Fire Department’s statement.