Veteran Filipino musician in Hong Kong's biggest cluster overcomes bout with COVID-19

Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 10 2020 04:59 AM | Updated as of May 10 2020 10:44 AM

HONG KONG - With having to juggle two jobs both day and night, the restless routine has kept veteran Filipino musician M.P. from socializing after his regular gigs. 

He turned out to be Hong Kong's 746th Covid-19 patient. And 98 people after him, came his wife, Hong Kong's 844th patient. To date, they are now among at least 967 patients who have recovered and have been discharged, as the city began easing restrictions from Friday, following two weeks of no local transmissions.

Bars, gyms, cinemas, beauty and and massage parlours were allowed to reopen.  Bars, however, are only permitted to operate at half-capacity and must ensure a distance of 1.5 metres between tables. Live music performances and dancing are not allowed.  Karaokes, party rooms and nightclubs will have to remain closed for an additional 14 days.

Gyms, cinemas and beauty parlours must also ensure social distancing like having adequate space between yoga mats, conducting temperature checks, and providing hand sanitizer. Some schools will also start opening at the end of May.

The total cases, as of May 9, stands at 1,045 (with one probable case). There was also no reported cases on the same day. Most of those who tested positive for the virus recently returned from Pakistan, but the vigilant city's digits have remained reassuringly low for some time.

Watch more on iWantTFC

Speaking with ABS-CBN News via a video call from his bed at the confines of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on April 21, a day before he was discharged, 58-year-old M.P., also a permanent Hong Kong resident and who works at a remittance company during day time, believes Hong Kong's biggest cluster, the bar and band, may have started in Wanchai rather than in Lan Kwai Fong, Central.

"Hindi ko akalain na magkakaroon ako kasi 'di ako nakikipag socialize after work e...kasi umuuwi agad ako dahil may trabaho ako sa araw. Di ako nakikipag kwentuhan after work.Ang pasok ko mga 8am," M.P. told ABS-CBN News. 

"Iyun pala nung halos na confine na kami lahat, halos yung staff ng Dusk Til Dawn halos lahat nagkaron pala," said M.P.

(I didn't think I'd have it because I don't socialize after work...because I go home at once as I have work during the day time. I work at 8am. And then when most of us had been confined, almost all the staff at Dusk Til Dawn contracted the virus.)

M.P. recalls that one of his musician peers got admitted to the hospital on March 21 and tested positive the next day. They did not think they would contract the disease. On March 24, he says, their management was supposed to hold a meeting, but that did not push through after a member of the management also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

"Tapos sinabihan kaming mag pa-check lahat. Di nung nag pa-check ako noong March 24, negative pa kasi hindi pa lumalabas yung symptoms e. Tapos  in-advise din ng Department of Health lahat ng staff i-quarantine," said M.P. 

"Tapos noon dadalhin na kami sa quarantine noon March 26, hindi ako sinakay sa bus kasi meron akong fever. Yun na pala yun tapos pinauwi ako sa bahay. Tapos nung nasa bahay ako, sabi ng Department of Health hintay lang daw ako. I-admit nila ako sa hospital. Bale ano yun, Thursday tapos Friday wala na akong lagnat," he added.

(Then we were told to have ourselves checked. So when I had myself checked on March 24, it was negative because the symptoms hadn't shown. Then the Department of Health advised quarantine for all the staff. When they were about to send us to quarantine on March 26, I wasn't allowed to board the bus because I had fever. That was it and I was told to return home.  Then when I was at home, the Department of Health told me to wait. They'll admit me to a hospital. That was a Thursday. By Friday, my fever had disappeared).

When his waiting time took a while, he decided to head to  Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, and admitted himself for a test. It was there where he was confirmed positive. He got admitted on March 21, but was later transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital because Kwong Wah Hospital reportedly did not have room to accommodate him.

Meanwhile his wife, whom he lives with, also tested positive with the virus, but had a low bacterial count. She didn't feel she had any fever until her temperature got checked before boarding the bus to the quarantine center. She was treated at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Shatin.

Some of his colleagues who were able to proceed to quarantine eventually started showing symptoms and were later confirmed positive.

News about a 29-year-old Filipino musician testing positive for Covid-19 in Lan Kwai Fong, employed by the Step by Step Company, first broke on March 23. Data from the Centre for Health Protection's showed, his onset date began on March 17 when he reported having cough and fever.

M.P., also an employee of the same company, but with a different band, suspects they contracted Covid-19 from a customer, most likely one that recently returned from a trip overseas. 

M.P. says his musician peers would rotate among the four bars, mainly Insomnia in Lan Kwai Fong, Dusk Til Dawn and Centre Stage - both in Wanchai -  and All Night Long in Tsim Sha Tsui. They would receive a text at 4pm every day on where they would be assigned to play, take a day off or continue to play at the same venue. It has been the system, he says, since 2001.

Two of his other five-member bandmates, the bassist and drummer, also tested positive for Covid-19. M.P. says it's the first time he's been hospitalized. Treatments on him were also done delicately because he had an underlying illness. Despite the ordeal, the Filipino remains positive.

"Pagka natamaan ka ng virus, 'di ka naman mamamatay. Yun ang  kinakatakot ng iba, mamamatay sila. Hindi naman yun death sentence. Walang epekto sa akin," said M.P.

"Yung iba natakot tapos biglang napaano tuloy sa bible ng di oras...parang naging malapit sa Diyos ganon. Maski ganito ako, may relationship talaga ako (sa diyos)," he added.

(When the virus hits you, you won't die. That's what many fear, that they wil die. It's not a death sentence. It has no effect on me. Others suddenly turned to the Bible and got closer to God. Even if I'm like this, I have a relationship with God)  

Despite the current situation, M.P. tells ABS-CBN News some financial assistance from the Hong Kong government might be extended through company he works for at night. He also said, as a Covid-19 patient, he received a cheque from the Community Chest, a local charity.

With many out of jobs as in other sectors, a spokesperson from the Home Affairs Bureau told ABS-CBN News that musicians with part-time jobs in other industries, such as education, construction, etc, may try to avail the scheme via different avenues that were being assisted by the government's anti-epidemic fund. 

On its April 30 press release, the Home Affairs said that the $150 million Arts and Culture Sector Subsidy Scheme, which was established under the Anti-epidemic Fund (AEF) to assist the arts and culture sector "to sail through the difficulties arising from COVID-19", has disbursed about $100 million so far to relevant organisations to assist various arts groups and freelance arts workers.
Since March, the HAB  says it has dispersed over $50 million subsidies to nine major performing arts groups, 14 venue partners of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, 33 grantees of the Arts Capacity Development Funding Scheme of the HAB, the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society and the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. 

 "Under the Arts and Culture Sector Subsidy Scheme, the HAB has entrusted the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) to implement the Support Scheme for Arts and Cultural Sector (Support Scheme) totalling $50 million, covering performances and activities affected by the epidemic from January 29 to June 30, 2020," the HAB said in its press release.

"In addition to the continued provision of approved year grants and project grants, the HKADC has dispersed an additional $80,000 subsidy to each of the 42 organisations receiving grants from the HKADC and $15,000 subsidy to each of the 203 projects funded/activities commissioned by the HKADC in March. The HKADC has also advised these arts groups to make use of the subsidies to pay the salaries of their staff, contractors and freelance workers as much as possible," it added.

Further, arts projects not funded by the HKADC and freelancers are also covered by the Support Scheme. The HKADC has received applications from more than 340 relevant projects and about 2 000 freelancers. 

The HKADC said it will approve the subsidies to eligible applicants "as soon as possible". 

"Apart from salaries from the arts groups which engaged them for a project, arts and culture freelancers may also apply for up to $7,500 subsidies from the HKADC for other arts and culture jobs affected by the epidemic," the statement read.