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Another newly arrived Filipina among 43 new Covid-19 cases in HK

Posted on 03 April 2020 No comments
By The SUN

There are now 4 Filipinas who flew in from Manila who have tested positive for Covid-19 in HK

A 52-year-old Filipina who has just returned from a vacation in the Philippines is one of 43 people in Hong Kong confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus disease today, Apr 3, according to the Department of Health.

She has become the fourth Filipino to test positive after flying in from Manila on Apr 1.

Three other infected Filipinas came from different places, brought there by their employers; one from the United Kingdom, another from Turkey, and the most recent, from the United States.


Also among the new cases are five linked to the bars in Central, Wanchai and Tsim Sha Tsui from where around 80 people have been infected so far.

The new cases brought the city’s total to 845. Of these, 626 remain in hospitals. Eight are in critical condition, and nine in serious condition.

Globally, the number of people infected with the virus has passed the million mark, with the death toll nearing 55,000.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection said in today’s press briefing that the helper was one of 34 patients who had traveled to other countries recently.

Seven of the 20 locally acquired cases are tied to bars, bolstering a move by the authorities to close from 6pm tonight all establishments that serve alcoholic drinks as part of the government’s social distancing measures to contain the epidemic.

Chuang said five of the new cases are tied to previously named bars in a cluster involving bar staff and musicians, as well as patrons.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love.

One of the patients visited All Night Long in Tsim Sha Tsui, while one other was a friend of a confirmed infected person who had been to Insomnia in Central. Two performers and a bar employee were also among Friday’s patients.  

Also part of the bar cluster are Dusk till Dawn and Centre Stage in Wanchai.

Insomnia in Lan Kwai Fong was where the first bar infection was detected 

However, two new patients both had travel history, and had visited a bar. The first visited Tazmania Ballroom in Lan Kwai Fong, and the other, La Cabane on Hollywood Road, both in Central.

Meanwhile, the move to close down bars has left many owners confused, saying the government was not clear on whether the targeted premises are those that exclusively or mainly sell or supply liquors for consumption.

They noted that due to a lack of clarity on how the social distancing law will be enforced, restaurants that also serve alcoholic drinks could be at risk of being shut.

Owners of businesses that violate the ban also face a maximum fine of $50,000 and six months in jail.

Gordon Lam Sui-wa, convenor of the Hong Kong Small and Middle Restaurant Federation, was reported by a local newspaper as saying that 1,100 bars would definitely close as selling alcohol was their business.

But those in uncertain situation are drinking venues also that also serve food and categorized as “bar and restaurants” on their liquor license, a grey area on which many of these businesses fall.

Asked about the issue at today’s press briefing, Dr Chui Tak-yi, undersecretary for Food and Health, said that the government ban covers bars and pubs because of their close setting and cramped configuration that do not engender social distancing.

Also covered by the ban are gatherings in premises or businesses that violate the law governing social distancing, Chui said.

He said activities in these establishments will be monitored in line with the government’s position to minimize social gatherings as a measure to contain the contagion.

But he said the government will only give out advice and warnings initially, because “ the public needs time to adjust.”

If the warnings are ignored, “then there will be enforcement,” he said.

Earlier this week, the government ordered the closure of karaoke lounges, mahjong parlours and clubhouses. That came after the first batch of public places that attract large crowds, including cinemas, gaming centers, saunas, fitness centres, party rooms and pool halls, were shut on Mar 28.

Meanwhile, the government has urged the public to avoid going to cemeteries tomorrow, Saturday, for the traditional sweeping of ancestors’ graves during the Ching Ming Festival.

“Doing so can lessen crowd conditions and reduce close contact, thereby reducing the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus through social contact,” a government spokesman said

Members of the public should also abide by the group gathering regulation that limits groupings to four people, unless they live in the same household, and to keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters from other groups.

Hong Kong’s strict laws on social gatherings come amid the coronavirus pandemic which has infected more than 1 million people worldwide, and claimed the lives of about 55,000 others. More than 200,000 have recovered.

In the new epicenter, the United States, the number of cases was nearing 250,000 with the death toll at 6,000. Italy was trailing the US with over 115,000 cases and about 14,000 deaths, while Spain is third, with more than 110,000 infections and 10,000 deaths.

In the Philippines, the tally as of today is 3,018 cases and 136 deaths.

Labour chief renews call for FDHs, employers to help contain spread of Covid-19

Posted on No comments
By Vir B. Lumicao

FDHs still flock to WorldWide Plaza in Central on Sundays as they need to send money home

Hong Kong’s top labor official has again urged foreign domestic helpers and their employers to agree on rest day arrangements ahead of the statutory holiday tomorrow, Apr 4, because of the Ching Ming Festival, and most workers’ regular Sunday off.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong made his appeal via a video message late on Thursday night, as he called on helpers and employers to join hands in helping keep the epidemic in check.

Lam thanked FDHs fo their contributions to Hong Kong society and appealed to them to observe social distancing in the fight against Covid-19.
 “The government has prohibited group gatherings with more than four people in public places. Offenders are liable to prosecution,” Law said.

“We fully understand that most helpers would like to meet their friends during their rest days. However, we are now at a critical juncture in our fight against Covid-19, and it is essential that all of us practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease,” the secretary said.

His warning came four days after the government forbid the gathering in public of more than four people, as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.
The ban carries with it a maximum penalty of $25,000 fine and imprisonment of up to six months, although those who want to settle the charge outright can opt to pay a fixed penalty of $2,000.
Many Filipino helpers stayed away from Central on the first day the ban on public gathering took effect

Law also appealed to employers to understand the current special circumstances and discuss the rest day arrangements with their helpers by encouraging them to stay home for rest, or to take their rest day on weekdays instead of at the weekend.

“Employers are also reminded that it is against the law to refuse to grant a rest day or compel your helpers to work on a rest day without consent,” he added.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love.

A wide range of publicity efforts have been undertaken by the government to drive home its message of keeping FDHs at home even on their rest day.

These include enlisting the help of consulates-general in convincing the workers to remain at home as much as possible, and putting up posters and distributing leaflets in major FDH languages with the same message.

In a separate advisory, the Consulate reiterated its stay-at-home appeal, saying that since Mar 27, three more Filipinos have been infected with the virus, raising the community’s total tally to 19.

“We appeal to the Filipino community in Hong Kong to stay at home whenever possible. Avoid crowded places when going out and follow recent regulation on social distancing that bans the gathering of more than 4 people in public places,” the PCG said in a post on its Facebook page.

At the same time, employers were urged to respect the rest day of employees who choose to stay at home.

The Labour Department has published some frequently asked questions and answers on rest day arrangements and relevant employment matters on its dedicated FDH portal (, for employers’ reference.

Bars and pubs to shut down from 6pm on Friday, Apr 3

Posted on No comments
By The SUN

Most bars  in Lan Kwai Fong have shut down even before the order to close was issued today

Hong Kong has ordered the closure of bars and pubs for two weeks starting at 6pm tomorrow, Apr 3, as part of measures to control the spread of the coronavirus disease.

The directive was published in the government gazette today, Apr 2.

“Any premises that is exclusively or mainly used for the sale or supply of intoxicating liquors…for consumption in that premises must be closed,” it said.
Even sections or bars found inside restaurants or clubhouses that mainly serve alcohol must be closed.

Violators face a fine of up to $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.

In a statement, the government said the new measure was taken because of 62 cases of Covid-19 cases directly linked to bars, and 14 of their close contacts, including a 40-day-old baby boy.
Yesterday, karaoke bars were also ordered shut after seven people who went to the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of MRRED karaoke all tested positive for Covid-19. A relative of one of them was also infected.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said the prohibition may extend to beauty parlors, after two more cases of beauticians getting infected were reported today.

One of them is a friend and colleague of another beautician who tested positive on Wednesday.
However, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Center for Health said the two did not work together in the same Tsim Sha Tsui branch of the salon that offered reenex, a facial laser technology. But they had gone surfing and hiking together in March.

The other infected beautician works at New Beauty in Causeway Bay.
Health officials say the closure order may extend to beauty parlors, after 3 beauticians were found infected
Chuang said health investigators suspect the salon was the origin of infection.

“We could not find other high-risk factors so far,” she said in the CHP’s daily press briefing.

“People should avoid unnecessary gatherings. They should really avoid activities that involve close contact. I think not many activities are essential, going to beauty parlors is not,” Chuang said.

The CHP reported 37 new confirmed coronavirus infections today, bringing the total number of cases in Hong Kong to 802.
Of the new cases, 30 had traveled overseas, including a 2-year-old child who visited Sweden with family members. Seventeen of the new patients are returning overseas students.

Chuang said that among the seven local transmissions was a man who caught the virus during a workout at the F45 Training gym in Wong Chuk Hang, where a member tested positive on Apr 1.

There was no direct contact between the two infected gym-goers, but the wife of the latest patient was the trainer of the other male customer.

Meanwhile, the Health Department officially informed the Consulate on Apr 2 that two Filipino Covid-19 patients had recovered and been discharged from the hospital.

They brought to six the number of Filipinos who have been released after recovering from the illness.

The Consulate said in a statement that 17 other Filipinos infected with Covid-19 remain in hospital.

“Our kababayans composed of 9 females and 8 males are undergoing treatment in various hospitals in Hong Kong. The Philippine Consulate General is extending all necessary assistance to them,” the statement said.

The Consulate again urged Filipinos to observe social distancing.

“We appeal to the Filipino community in Hong Kong to stay at home whenever possible. Avoid crowded places when going out and follow recent regulation on social distancing that bans the gathering of more than 4 people in public places,” the Consulate said.

In another development, the chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases stepped up pressure on the government to also close beauty and massage parlors for two weeks.

“Masks work, taking temperatures work, but those measures are not 100%. There’s still a chance of the virus spreading from the mask to hands, and if a person is getting a facial there is no way for them to wear masks,” Dr Leung Chi-chiu said.

“Beauticians and masseuses also take care of many customers a day, which increases the risk of cross-contamination,” Leung said.

This was supported by Dr David Hui Shu-cheong, who spoke at a coronavirus update forum hosted by the Asia Society of Hong Kong.

As of this writing, Covid-19 cases has risen past 930,000 with the total death toll approaching 47,000.

The United States, the new epicenter of the contagion, has reported nearly 220,000 infections and more than 5,000 deaths.

Italy’s tally of confirmed infections surged past 110,000 while its death toll rose to over 13,000. Spain was closing in on Italy with over 100,000 infections and 9,000 deaths.

The Philippines’ Covid-19 cases had risen to 2,633 with the death toll climbing to 107.

Ambassador and ex-HK Congen Bernie Catalla succumbs to Covid-19

Posted on 02 April 2020 No comments
By The SUN

Ambassador Bernie with then Chief Secretary Carrie Lam at the Phl Independence Day celebration in 2016

The SUN deeply mourns the passing of Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon and former Consul General in Hong Kong Bernardita M. Catalla, due to complications arising from Covid-19. She was 62. 

Ambassador Catalla, who served as consul general in Hong Kong from 2014 to 2017, reportedly died in Beirut on Apr 2, shortly after falling ill following a visit to Manila in the middle of March.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila issued this statement early this morning about Ambassador Bernie’s passing:

“With deep sadness, the Department of Foreign Affairs announces the untimely demise on 2 April 2020, of Ambassador Bernardita Catalla, Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon, from complications arising from Covid 19. A career diplomat for almost 30 years, service to the country has been the hallmark of Ambassador Catalla’s distinguished foreign service career. She served in key posts like Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta and was Passport Director where she delivered frontline service to millions of Filipinos. Prior to her assignment in Lebanon, she was Consul General in Hong Kong, looking over the welfare of hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipinos. Since December 2019, she spearheaded the voluntary mass repatriation program of the Philippine Embassy in Beirut. Bernie, as Ambassador Catalla was fondly called, has always lent a helping hand, to her family, friends and colleagues. Her ever ready smile and infectious laughter may have been extinguished but her dedication to our country will be always be there as a guiding light for all members of the Philippine foreign service."

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. later said that Ambassador Catalla’s remains will be received with an honor guard, and that he will be putting forward a nomination for Gawad Mabini and Order of Sikatuna for her.

Both awards are bestowed on individuals and diplomats who have rendered distinguished or meritorious service, or promoted the interests of the country at home and abroad.

Farewell lunch with The SUN, PAHK, Pintura Circle and Filipino Bankers Club

As the head of post in Hong Kong, Ambassador Catalla distinguished herself for her fearless and open type of leadership. Shortly after taking over the post, she ordered an investigation into the alleged misconduct committed by the then labor attaché, Manuel Roldan, and allowed the publication of a damning report afterwards. 


She also acted decisively to address several issues, including the seasonal long queues for the overseas employment certificate, and unfounded accusations of irregularities during the overseas prrsidential election in 2016.

Global Alliance farewell for CG Bernie

At the opening of an art exhibit by Pintura Circle

Manning the desk at the 2016 overseas voting 

At the opening of the education fair with reps from UP, La Salle and Ateneo

As proud UP alumna administering the oath to  UPAA-HK officers

But her biggest legacy to the Filipino community in Hong Kong is the amendment of the foreign domestic helpers’ contract to include a ban on dangerous window cleaning, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2017. No other consul general in Hong Kong can lay claim to such a feat.
Many Filipinos in Hong Kong, including migrant workers in the building where the official residence is located, will also remember Ambassador Catalla, who was single, for her excellent cooking skills and her generosity. She often cooked regularly for her staff and Filipino community leaders she invited to her residence. She also did much of the cooking for events at the Consulate, including the traditional breakfast to celebrate the annual Philippine Independence Day.

Hosting Christmas dinner  for OFWs at her residence

To show appreciation for her outstanding service to the community, various Filcom groups gave her a send-off, including migrant organizations as well as business, academic and professional associations.

The SUN also awarded her a certificate of appreciation for keeping an open line of communication between her office and the community at large. ( )
Accepting a plaque of appreciation from The SUN
Shortly after being assigned to Beirut, Ambassador Bernie said in various interviews that she would have opted to stay in Hong Kong if she could be made ambassador here.

“That’s the height..the peak of your career to become an ambassador. If I can become an ambassador in Hong Kong, why shouldn’t I stay? I love it in Hong Kong, but it’s a career move,” Catalla said in one interview with The SUN.
It was fitting that she not only accomplished her lifelong career goal, but also managed to make her mark as an ambassador, before her untimely demise.

Here are some of the tributes to Amba Bernie by those who knew her, and her outstanding work as a diplomat:

Ex-Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre, who worked with Amba Bernie in her last year as consul general in Hong Kong:
Though not many people knew it, it was she who first pushed me to engage the Filipino community, supported by the Indonesians, to advocate and fight for the ban against window-cleaning, which succeeded and is now embedded in the standard employment contract for Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong. Her courage and her can-do attitude fortified my resolve to put everything on the line to get the campaign going. Though we differed on some issues, it was never in the commitment to carry the interests of the Filipino community forward. Saludo ako, Amba Bernie!

Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, general manager of the Mission for Migrant Workers, which spearheaded a call in 2014 for an investigation into an alleged malpractice by the then labor attaché:
“We mourn her loss pero mas maiging buhayin ang halimbawa niya.
Nung nag file ang CSPEM (Coalition of Service Providers for Ethnic Minorities) 
ng kaso laban sa dating labor attache dito na si Manuel Roldan for abuse of power, nagtayo sya ng Investigating Committee at isinabmit ang reports sa Manila. Malaking bagay yon. House Reps from the Overseas Workers Affairs Comm visited HK for that, nag call sya ng meeting with them inviting us at nakipagtalakayan.
Even the window-cleaning is a celebrated issue din. Nagpapakita ito na kung titindig ang consulate para sa kagalingan ng kanyang mamamayang migrante, may bigat iyon para ikonsidera ng gobyerno ng OFW- receiving country (HK)
We celebrate Amba Bernie's life that, though short, was spent to its fullest. A friend to many, an active servant of the overseas Filipino community. May she rest in peace.”

Edwina Antonio, executive director, Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, who recalls a congen who made herself available to those in need at all times:
“Congen readily acted on our requests on behalf of migrant workers and other people in need. She responded even outside office hours, like in the case of a Filipina DJ who was detained along with her 7-year-old daughter in Indonesia. A relative of the woman sought our assistance to locate her. Congen did her best to endorse the case to our embassy in Indonesia for immediate action. A few days later, both mother and child were rescued.
She did the same for Leonora, an OFW who was dying of tuberculosis in the brain in HK. The daughter and aunt needed to come to HK to visit Leonora. Congen did not hesitate to assist the family, too, so they could see our OFW one last time.
We grieve the loss of a true civil servant, one who faithfully lived by her oath of serving her compatriots abroad.”

Eman Villanueva, chairman, Bayan Hong Kong and Macau. Eman remembers one particular incident when Amba Bernie showed  her decisiveness, and genuine desire to serve Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong:
“Bukas siya sa mga suggestions. Hindi niya pinepersonal ang mga kritisismo. Natatandaan ko noon, nakipag meet kami sa kanya tungkol sa sobrang perwisyo ng pila sa pagkuha ng OEC. Ang Polo OIC noon ay si ALA (Assistant Labor Attache) Nena German. Ipinaliwanag namin bakit we were strongly against the OEC at gusto naming na  matanggal na ito. Pero dahil hindi naman siya makaka decide nito, nag suggest kami na at least magkaroon ng sistema para hindi na pipila ng halos buong araw ang mga OFWs. We suggested yung numbered appointment system. Na kukuha ng number ang mga OFWs at babalik sila sa specified time for service para hindi na nila kelangan mag stay sa pila. Despite the reluctance ni ALA German to the idea, then Congen Bernie immediately accepted our proposal and implemented it the following day.”

Leo Selomenio, chair of Global Alliance in Hong Kong, one of the community’s biggest migrant workers organizations:
“She will always be remembered. I can’t believe that she is gone, only memories remain. Maybe that is why I organized big time for our farewell party before she left for Lebanon. I can’t forget how I brazenly said to her face that she was the ‘meanest’ when I felt frustrated about some project my group was doing with the consulate. All she did was to give a good laugh, pat my shoulder, and say with compassion, ‘am I?’. I regret saying that because I realized later on that she was not. She was straightforward but very professional, and had a good sense of humor. I will never forget our funny moments together. I may be sad now but I am happy with the thought that she has joined our Creator. Rest in peace, Amba Bernie."

Abigail Camaya-Hills, president, Pintura Circle Hong Kong. Her group made up of Hong Kong-based artists held various art exhibits for charity at the Consulate, with Amba Bernie's blessings. 
“She will be forever remembered and respected for her untiring commitment to the Filipino community of Hong Kong. She inspired us to keep giving back for the blessings we have.”

Jo Campos, ex-OFW and contributor of The SUN.
“Nakakalungkot. I could not believe what I saw on my newsfeed. I needed to wait for other posts and searched for news to confirm that it was indeed Amba Bernie Catalla. I had the opportunity to see the other side of our dear ConGen in HK when I was assigned to interview and feature her in The SUN's Food Trip celebrity chef. I prepared well and wrote my notes and questions carefully (which I don't usually do.) Ayoko mapahiya kay ConGen na magkalat sa interview. I went to her residence on Kotewall Rd and she greeted me warmly at the door. It was a different Ma'am Bernie, as she was not in her usual "ConGen" attire, but was just wearing a t-shirt and jeans and an apron. We went straight to the kitchen and she was more prepared than me! The kitchen looked like a set for a cooking show! We had something in common, and it just clicked, we started talking endlessly about food and cooking, about her signature sauces,  specially her own version of XO sauce and I completely forgot how nervous I was so that I totally ditched my notes and recorder. I came home inspired, I was able to compose my article so quickly, even my editor noticed it! I will always have a fond memory of that day although she never knew that I learned so much from that experience. Goodbye, Maam Bernie. Rest in peace.”

Consul Charles Macaspac, who served with Amba Bernie in HK from 2014-2016 before returning to Manila, and is now posted at the Philippine Embassy in Belgium.

“It was an honor and privilege to serve under her. She had great rapport with then Hong Kong Labour Secretary Matthew Cheung we were able to shut down numerous abusive agencies during our regular meetings with the HK Labour Department. She also revived the political and economic sections. She always had my back.”


Karaoke ban no surprise, says Junel’s owner

Posted on No comments
By Daisy CL Mandap

Junel's had its grand re-opening at its new location in January this year

The day before the Hong Kong government decided to clamp down on karaoke bars to stop a surge in Covid-19 cases, the owners of Junel’s Resto-Bar in Sai Ying Pun decided to put away their treasured microphones and song books.

That was because of reports that came out that day that five people who got together at a karaoke bar in Tsim Sha Tsui all tested positive for the coronavirus disease.

“Mabuti na yung sigurado, para sa amin din iyon,” says 63-year-old Julia Mangrobang, who, with her husband Alvin, run Junel’s, a favorite sing-along place of many Filipino migrants and expatriates in Hong Kong for more than a decade.


On Wednesday, two more people in the group that sang together at the TST bar were also found infected, prompting Hong Kong officials to order the closure of all karaoke lounges for the next 14 days.

For Mangrobang, the order did not come as a surprise, especially after a big cluster of infections were reported earlier in several bars across Hong Kong where mostly Filipino band members played.

It was only a matter of time before the karaokes, where people not just talk close to each other because of the noise but also share microphones, were also hit by the pandemic.

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“Noon pa naman, sinasabi ko na na laging lagyan ng takip ang mga microphone, kasi madaling mabugahan yan ng mga kumakanta,” she says.

Thus, as soon as they heard that a karaoke lounge had taken a hit from the virus, Julie and Alvin decided to stop the singing in their resto-bar, and just serve food.

They’re lucky because many of their customers go to their place not just for the singing, but also for the home-cooked Filipino dishes that they serve. In fact, many patrons go to them for just a quick lunch, or to order take-away.

It is their take-home service that has helped keep them afloat since the virus began making its presence felt in the city, says Julie.
Since early March, she says many people have stopped coming by to party at her place. The numbers declined further when news broke that several musicians and staff of Insomnia in Lan Kwai Fong and two other bars in Wanchai, began testing positive for Covid-19.
Julie inside the bar she started in 1999
As a result, Julie says her regular customers, mostly Westerners who used to pack Junel’s on Friday and Saturday nights, began staying away.

Filipinos, too, who used to come on other days – professional workers who preferred weekday nights - and migrant workers who would come on their Sunday day-off, both for lunch and dinner.

Business got so bad that on a weekday night recently, all she made was $135, Julie says.
On Sunday, Mar 29, the last time she opened her bar to karaoke patrons, only four people came, and the only amount that went into her cash register was $844.

That came as a bit of a shock to Julie whose avid supporters helped her raise enough fund last year so she could move and refurbish a new place, after her landlord at the former Junel’s site in the same neighborhood had jacked up the rent.

Junel’s moved to its new location on On Ning Lane in August last year, but had its grand opening night only in January this year, with a huge crowd to cheer it on.

But just a scant two months after, business is almost at a standstill. Julie says people still come to eat, but most are in no mood to linger. “Eat and run lahat,” she says.

But she’s well aware that the contagion is real, and may linger for a while. She relates that some family members in the Philippines have been unable to visit since a travel ban for Hong Kong-bound tourists was imposed by the Manila government in early February.

“Nakailang rebook na ako ng ticket nila,” she shares. “Kailan kaya sila pwedeng makapunta dito?”

Recently, she says an ambulance came to take away a guest at the nearby Best Western Hotel, possibly someone under quarantine who just returned a positive result for Covid-19.

But like most small business owners in Hong Kong who have had to deal with the double whammy brought on by the raucous anti-government protests in the second half of last year, and now, the virus, Julie is prepared to hunker down for the leaner days ahead.

Having seen how her community of karaoke lovers had come around to help keep her bar afloat, Julie knows that when the days are better, she can again count on them for support. Definitely, with karaoke back on the menu, so they can again sing the blues away.

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