Rethink needed to avoid queue madness

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong people love to line up for trendy accessories of all sorts. So it is not surprising that special Olympic banknotes issued by the Bank of China (Hong Kong) to commemorate the historic sporting event have proved irresistible to many, especially as they may fetch a good resale price. Crowds who gathered for the Apple iPhone release last week provided an amusing topic for conversation. But it was a more serious matter when thousands of people queued outside various bank branches on Monday - some of them more than two days ahead - to try to secure the special banknotes. They were recklessly exposing themselves - and in many cases, their accompanying family members - to severe thunderstorms and heavy rain.

The bank must bear some responsibility for the chaos. It underestimated the number of people who would turn up and failed to deploy enough security staff. In a statement last week, it said its distribution would be fair, open and transparent and carried out on a first come, first served basis. Yet, this was a source of the problem because everyone wanted to make sure they did not miss out on the banknotes. There were reports of people jumping queues and tempers flaring, with police making three arrests for suspected assault. Since the number of banknote packs per person was limited, whole families lined up in some cases - trying to get as many packs as possible. One family was filmed carrying a one-year-old baby, the mother hoping the child would qualify for a share of the banknotes. This was irresponsible under such bad weather conditions.

While conditions improved yesterday, there were still long queues outside some bank branches. It helped that bank staff started registering people early yesterday morning so they can collect the special banknotes later this week at selected places. But in this day and age, queues are wholly avoidable. There were few queues in Macau because people were able to order the banknotes online. Those in Hong Kong should have been able to do so, on the phone and through the internet. However, these options were not offered here. In coming days, organisers have a responsibility to make sure the notes are distributed in an orderly and safe manner.