Hong Kongers turn out for indie club's last performance as coronavirus forces closure

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hundreds of Hong Kongers sporting face masks pulsated under strobe lights at a reknowned indie club for the last time on Thursday as cancellations by performers due to the coronavirus have forced the venue to close.

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The music house known as Hidden Agenda: This Town Needs (TTN) opened its doors in 2009 and quickly attracted a loyal crowd of young Hong Kongers to one of few independent venues for live indie music in the city.

More recently the club in an industrial area on the Kowloon peninsula drew supporters of anti-government protests that have rocked the city. They would often chant common protest slogans between song breaks at TTN.

But in recent weeks international bands and artists such as H.J. Freaks, Nervosa and Crown The Empire canceled performances along with many others due to travel restrictions following the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, co-founder Joshua Chan said.

“I think we put the safety of the artists and audience as our first priority,” Chan told Reuters.

TTN has made almost no income over the past two months but has still had to pay HK$320,000 ($41,000) in monthly rent and other expenses for the space, the other co-founder Hui Cheng Wo said.

At Thursday’s farewell event, over 600 people were temperature checked and forced to sanitize their hands before being permitted entry to the club. All were wearing some form of face protection as were the band members who rocked on stage.

TTN’s closure marks the end of a troubled existence. The club moved location several times due to problems getting a license as a live music venue and was also beset by staff visa problems, leading to police raids at one point.

Now, TNN is among thousands of businesses including tourism and retail firms that are struggling to survive as locals stay at home and away from public areas. A partial closure of Hong Kong’s border with mainland China to prevent the spread of the virus has also reduced visitors to a trickle.

“We don’t really have a plan B how to cope... when something like coronavirus happened we had no choice but to shut down for now,” Chan said.

The former British colony has been in a recession for at least three quarters. The fallout from the coronavirus, which has killed two people in Hong Kong and infected more than 90, comes after months of the often violent student protests that have further battered the city’s economy.

The Hong Kong government pledged cash handouts to residents and tax breaks for business in its annual budget on Wednesday to soften the blow, but that will also put added strain on weakening public finances.

The support measures are not expected to arrest the downturn in the Asian financial hub, analysts said, although they will provide households and companies with some relief.

($1 = 7.7917 Hong Kong dollars)

Reporting by Jessie Pang and Joyce Zhou; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Susan Fenton