A three-hour convoy of roughly 75 to 100 honking vehicles, many flying Hawaiian flags, traveled from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport to Waikiki today in protest of visitors being allowed to remain in the islands during the coronavirus outbreak.
A protester in the convoy, using a bullhorn in the back of a pickup in Waikiki, said: “Hawaii is not your quarantine. Please return to your homes immediately!”
The group, Ku Kiai Hawaii, said it is protesting the state’s lack of action to protect Hawaii from the threats tourism poses to public health.
Organizer Kawena Phillips said plans to quarantine incoming travelers is a great place to start, but the group wants to see faster and more drastic actions taken by the state such as urging visitors to return home and encouraging hotels to shut down.
“We are absolutely tired of the interests of the tourist industry superseding the well-being of our communities, including hotel and food service workers,” Phillips said in a written statement.
Citing Lt. Gov. Josh Green, he said Hawaii lacks a sufficient number of intensive care beds for its own residents, so visitors are putting themselves at risk coming here and when they get sick it only further taxes the healthcare system in Hawaii.
This evening, a state Department of Health spokeswoman raised concerns about some residents believing all COVID-19 cases here are visitors and a stigma developing against visitors. She said of the 37 positive COVID-19 tests to date in Hawaii, 32 of them are the result of travel by residents.
“The majority of cases are residents who returned home after traveling,” the spokeswoman said. “At this time, there may be residents returning home from a school that has closed or from other essential travel.”
The spokeswoman urged all travelers to monitor their health for 14 days after traveling and to stay at home if they become sick and avoid exposing others.
Bernadette Jackson, who sells time shares on Kalakaua Avenue for Diamond Resort, took video of the convoy.
Although her job depends on tourism, she said, “I agree with them,” adding, “It’s dead right now.”
German visitor Corenna Rosenberg, 44, noticed the protestors saying: “In this crisis, every country has to stay by their own. It’s a normal process. I’m not hurt about that personally.”
She and her travel companion were returning home early and booked a flight today for Saturday.
They had planned the trip a year in advance, arrived March 7 on Hawaii island, and now face a probable two-week quarantine when they return home.
“For us, it’s just a little sad,” Rosenberg said. “We wanted to see nature. We wanted to hike a lot of trails.…All the things we tried to do were closed,” including the botanical gardens, Makapuu Lighthouse and Diamond Head trails, and the Valley of the Temples.
Seattle visitor Michael Sukhov, 67, said he gave the protesters a “hang loose sign,” adding: “I feel with them because I don’t consider myself a tourist. I lived here back in the ’70s.”
The sociologist said he feels for the Hawaiian people, knowing the history of the white settlers who brought disease, “and I’m implicated in that.”
He said he was feeling depressed at home where the weather is dreary.
Sukhov said he feels bad coming from Seattle where there is a high rate of the disease, but says he feels fine and keeps his distance from others.