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Musicians plead with health officials: ‘Let us go back to work’

02 October 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

HKMU led by Lo (middle, with glasses) poses for pictures
with Chui (3rd from left), Cheung and Chan after the meeting

Hong Kong musicians have made an impassioned appeal to health officials to let them go back to work by allowing bars and other entertainment venues to resume live performances as soon as possible.

The plea was made by officers of the Hong Kong Musicians Union, led by its chairperson Manuela D. Lo, during a meeting on Sept 29 with Deputy Health Secretary Howard Chan and Undersecretary for Food and Health Dr Chui Tak-yi.

The meeting was arranged by Legislative Council member Tommy Cheung, who represents the catering sector, and has been helping HKMU advance its cause.

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“Hear us, help us,” said an emotional Lo, as she told the officials how most of the 1,000 or so professional musicians in Hong Kong have been out of jobs since the bars were first shut on Apr 3.

Others became jobless even earlier, when the virus spread across four bars in key districts in late March, leaving more than 20 band members infected and about 50 others confined in quarantine centers.

She said many of the jobless musicians have been doing odd jobs like working for cargo companies, just to make ends meet. But others who are not permanent residents are not allowed to moonlight under their visa conditions.


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The bars were reopened on Jun 19, but were promptly closed down again when the third wave of infections swept across Hong Kong in early July. 

Lo said the tales of woes from the musicians have been heartbreaking, adding, almost in tears: “If you could give back their jobs, that would be great.”

While bars and other night spots were allowed to reopen starting on Sept 18, they are made to operate under very strict conditions. Everyone should wear a mask unless eating or drinking, and no more than two people can sit at each table, which should be kept 1.5 meters away from the next.

Bars were allowed to reopen last month, but without the live shows

Worse, especially for the musicians, is that the bars are still forbidden from having live performances, even if larger venues such as theaters and exhibition halls have been given the green light to stage shows before a live audience.

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Dr Chui replied that the government understood the difficulties faced by various sectors like the musicians, but it is now being more cautious in lifting restrictions, having learned its lesson from the recent outbreak that saw the number of infected persons rising to three digits per day.

He also noted that from just 7 deaths before the third wave of infections started in early July, there are now more than 100 casualties, which meant more than 90 patients had passed on in less than three months.

Chan assured the group that what the government wants is to ensure the safety of everyone, especially since another outbreak could come at the onset of winter.

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“All we want is to protect your health and the others, too,” he said.

He also raised concern about the spread of the virus among musicians staying in one dormitory in the second wave of infections, but was told that this was because they were imported workers, and hired by just one company that made them perform in the various bars where the disease spread.

Insomnia in Lan Kwai Fong was the first to close after the virus swept through bars

The health officials were also reminded that the infection in the bars appeared to have started not with the musicians, but with patrons, some of whom appeared to have brought back the virus from overseas.

Cheung assured the officials that the musicians were willing to undertake self-regulation to protect themselves and the community, and also convince the authorities to allow them to get back to work.

Among the measures they proposed were the following: (1) masks should be worn at all times inside the bars, even during performances; (2) all musicians must bring their own microphones and sterilize their own instruments; (3) no mingling with the guests; and (4) no bar-hopping, meaning performers will stick to one venue.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

At the same time, Cheung being a bar owner himself, said their sector could undertake to put up acrylic shields between the musicians and the audience to further lessen the chance of aerosol transmissions during a performance. 

He also suggested that wind instruments like saxophones and trumpets be not included in the repertoire for the same reason.

Tsui and Chan asked the musicians to list down all their proposals so the government can go over them and decide in the next week or two on whether they can be acted upon, as long as the situation continues to stabilize.

HKMU immediately took up the suggestion, and has already started a campaign to get their petition signed by as many musicians as possible over the holidays. The statement will then be sent to Cheung for endorsement to concerned government officials.

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