Governor delays Aug. 1 plan to reopen tourism by at least a month

July 13, 2020 1:16 PM | Cindy Wild

Governor delays Aug. 1 plan to reopen tourism by at least a month

File photo. Gov. David Ige holds a press conference to announce which measures he will veto from the 2019 legislative session. (Image: Hawaii News Now) 

By HNN Staff | July 13, 2020 at 11:15 AM HST - Updated July 13 at 1:05 PM 

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state will delay by at least a month the planned Aug. 1 reopening of Hawaii’s tourism industry with a traveler pre-testing program, Gov. David Ige has announced.

During a legislative briefing Monday, Ige said he would be extending the 14-day mandatory quarantine for all trans-Pacific travelers through the end of August as the state continues to hammer out the details of how the testing program would work ― and ensure that visitors don’t slip through the cracks.

“We are preparing the emergency, supplemental emergency proclamation for specifically that,” Ige said.

The governor has faced mounting pressure from several corners, including from all four county mayors, to push back the planned reopening of tourism.

The plan, first announced on June 24, was considered by many to be a lifeline to Hawaii’s flat-lining visitor industry and would require travelers to get tested before they arrive in the islands.

But the plan hit a number of roadblocks in recent days, including because of a surge in infections on the mainland and a subsequent shortage of tests in some areas.

Ige first implemented the quarantine measures back in March, requiring any passenger on any flight landing in Hawaii to spend 14 days in isolation to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As a result, the number of passenger arrivals statewide fell from an average of nearly 30,000 per day to fewer than 400 by the middle of April, according to data released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Eliminating travel restrictions that pertained to inter-island travel ― which the governor did last month ― was the first step taken toward ushering in the return of the tourism sector in Hawaii.

The second, the state hoped, was to be the changes to the trans-Pacific travel restrictions that were scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 1.

In lieu of a 14-day quarantine, the state instead wanted to require passengers to produce a negative coronavirus pre-test, taken within 72 hours of departure to Hawaii.

And though the state admitted that a rise in cases was expected even if new restrictions were in place, the state Department of Health insisted that Hawaii’s hospital system could handle a potential increase.

But as coronavirus cases on the mainland have surged in recent weeks, including in some of the markets that typically send the highest number of travelers to Hawaii, the state’s plan has been criticized for being too weak to prevent rash of new cases in Hawaii and ensure visitors were following the rules.

The Honolulu City Council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday asking the governor to consider delaying the implementation of the change in travel restrictions in order to fortify certain aspects, like testing and contact tracing.

The resolution also suggested that the state implement a requirement for a second negative coronavirus test, taken within seven days of the first negative test, in order to avoid quarantining.

And on Thursday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell himself cast doubt on the feasibility of the state’s plan, saying he no longer thinks allowing visitors to avoid quarantine starting next month if they test negative for COVID-19 is “safe for everyone.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and members of the Hawaii County Council also spoke out against state’s plan, urging the governor to reconsider its implementation.

“The current plan for testing visitors 72 hours before arriving in the State of Hawaiʻi is inadequate as it will increase the exposure of COVID-19 to airline, hotel, and service industry employees,” the Hawaii County Council said in a statement. “These are our families, friends, and neighbors.”

This story will be updated. 

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