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Cautious customers shun restaurant across infected Wanchai bars

28 March 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

Cinta-J faces two of the virus-infested bars along Jaffe Rd in Wanchai

A popular Wanchai restaurant favored by Filipinos and their friends faces a tough time, after reports that the dreaded coronavirus disease had swept through two adjacent bars across the road.

Cinta-J, which has been in business for more than 30 years, finds itself at the receiving end of a fallout from the infection that swept through staff and performers at the now shuttered The Centre Stage and Dusk Till Dawn bars on Jaffe Road.

The two bars, along with Insomnia in Lan Kwai Fong, Central, and All Night Long in Tsim Sha Tsui, have been identified as the sources of a cluster infection that has struck down 27 musicians and staff, along with 16 customers.

On Friday, Mar 27 alone, 10 staff and a performer at Dusk and Insomnia were reported as having contracted Covid-19, along with nine patrons.

The reports appear to have spooked customers of Cinta-J, a restaurant-bar across the road that serves both Indonesian and Filipino food, and also provides live entertainment at night.

“Dati laging puno ng tao rito, kahit lunchtime, lalo na kapag araw ng Biyernes tulad ngayon,” said Jackie Flores, a 38-year-old waitress at Cinta-J, said.
Flores, left, and a fellow waitress, sit amid an empty Cinta-J restaurant
She said that before the contagion, the restaurant would normally have dozens of office workers lining up to eat or order take-out food for lunch.
At night, the place would be even more crowded, with many people coming in to listen to their in-house band perform starting at 6pm.

But on this day, Flores, along with two other staff, were the only people in the eatery.

“Ngayon ay wala na sila, walang dumarating simula kanina,” she said referring to lunchtime. 
She said customers would usually start arriving at around 3pm for some snacks and drinks. Many would stay on for the performances of their all-Filipino band that belts out a wide range of songs, from English and Tagalog ballads, to classic and modern rock.

Guests would pour in until late at night, especially for their favorite part, when band members would start accepting song requests, or invite members of the audience to sing along.

Sunday is usually the busiest day at Cinta-J because many Filipinos migrant workers hankering for food from home gather there to celebrate special occasions, or just to meet up, dance and sing.
That, too, has changed since Hong Kong was hit by the coronavirus infection, and the government advised migrant workers to stay at home on their rest day. Many employers seized this as an opportunity to stop their helpers from taking their usual Sunday off.

But the biggest whammy came on Mar 25, when a record five musicians who played in Insomnia and the two bars, along with a waitress, were included in the day’s list of new Covid-19 infections.

“Bale dalawang araw na kaming zero,” said Flores.

She said the crowds began thinning after the first band member tested positive on Mar 23.

“Kitang-kita ng mga customer namin noong pinuntahan ng ambulansya ng mga taga-Health Department ang dalawang bar na iyan,” Flores said.

Health workers also went up to the band members’ flat in Hang Shun Mansions just above the two bars, to disinfect the place. Many of the performers, who were mostly recruited from the Philippines on short-term contracts, lived in the flat.

Flores said she understood the customers’ fear, although Cinta-J itself has not been infected. But she can’t help but worry about the economic repercussions of the contagion.

At lunchtime on Mar 27, very few people were on Jaffe Road, some of them office workers scurrying through, with lunchboxes bought from other restaurants in the area.

Both Dusk till Dawn and Centre Stage have been boarded up after the outbreak

Inside the shuttered bars, two or three people could be seen moving behind the translucent window panes of Dusk Till Dawn.

Asked if they were employees of the bar, Flores said they were health workers disinfecting the entire pub after cleansing the Centre Stage.

The same grim picture emerged over at Lan Kwai Fong, where Insomnia, identified as the epicenter of the biggest outbreak in the entertainment scene, stands forlorn, its dim, empty interior watched over by a stone sculpture of a horned head.

Its entrance, once a place to be seen in the most popular nightspot in the city, is now blocked by two decks of wooden bar stools, lined up behind a pair of green plastic chains.
Once the place to be in Lan Kwai Fong, Insomnia is now shuttered after disinfection

A sign in front says, “Due to the pandemic, we are closed until further notice. Keep safe and healthy.”

The sad saga of what was once one of Hong Kong’s favorite bars may not be over yet.

Hong Kong’s health officials say more than 120 people working in the bars have been quarantined. A number of their friends are also being checked in case they, too, have been infected.

But they have also been quick to say that the source of the outbreak has not been determined, so there should be no finger-pointing, or laying blame on anyone.

The musicians, the food servers and other staff, are the least to blame for the outbreak. They are, in fact, victims. They got struck while doing their jobs.

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