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Senators say plan needed as airlines resume flying to Hawaii

Some international carriers may resume service to Hawaii as early as May 31, prompting the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 to express concern that state government doesn’t have a plan to reopen travel.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Mililani Mauka-Waipio Acres-Wheeler, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, portion of Poamoho) asked Hawaii Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson and representatives from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency what the process would be to reopen tourism if airlift started ramping up in June.

Anderson frustrated the committee when he told them that he didn’t think “anyone’s worked that out.”

“No one is even talking about allowing people to start coming here except with quarantine provisions — that’s not even being discussed. We’re not close to that point,” Anderson said. “We’ll have to figure out exactly what screening would be necessary whether its thermal screening or testing or physical exam or whatever the case may be. We’ll need to figure it out and we don’t have that right now.”

Sen. Sharon Moriwaki (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kaka­ako-McCully-Moiliili) said she’s among the Senate committee members who want a recovery and management plan in place now so that tourism can operate as safely as possible once state and county emergency orders are lifted.

“Other than the defense industry, we live off the tourism industry so of course we want it to start up. But we don’t want to go back to a big surge and open our borders without having the infrastructure in place like hospital beds and ventilators to protect our safety and our health,” Moriwaki said after the hearing.

Moriwaki said lawmakers also need to know they’ll need to pass laws to keep public safety considerations going once Gov. David Ige’s emergency orders expire.

Moriwaki said the travel industry needs time to plan for reopening and any new requirements. But judging from recent flight schedule updates, there isn’t much time left.

On Wednesday, many international carriers updated their flight schedules. There are a smattering of Hawaii routes indicating that carriers could be gearing up to restart, although schedules could go through additional adjustments.

Suspensions expected to end May 31 are:

>> Asiana Airlines’ Honolulu/Incheon (Seoul)

>> Korean Airlines’ Incheon/Honolulu and Incheon/Narita/Honolulu flights

>> Hawaiian Airlines’ serv­ice between Honolulu and Seoul

>> Hawaiian Airlines’ serv­ice suspensions between Honolulu and Haneda, Narita, Osaka, and Fukuoka in Japan

>> Hawaiian Airlines’ serv­ice suspensions between Honolulu and Papeete, Tahiti

>> All Nippon Airways flights between Honolulu and Japan

>> Japan Airlines flights between Honolulu and Japan

>> Delta Air Lines flights between Honolulu and Japan

Suspensions slated to end in June are:

>> Hawaiian Airlines’ service suspension between Honolulu and Sydney and Brisbane in Australia as well as Honolulu and Auckland, New Zealand.

Suspensions slated to end in July are:

>> Hawaiian Airlines’ flight that operates four times weekly between Honolulu and Haneda and three times weekly between Kona and Haneda is expected to resume July 2 and 3, respectively.

>> Hawaiian Airlines’ service suspension between Honolulu and Chitose (Sapporo, Japan) would run through July 20.

The Senate committee discussion occurred against the backdrop of increasing frustration from local residents and lawmakers, who are dismayed that a small flow of visitors is still coming into the state, despite onerous emergency orders and high-profile arrests of violators.

Passenger counts dropped dramatically after Ige ordered a trans-Pacific passenger quarantine implemented on March 26 to cut travel demand and protect Hawaii’s resources due to COVID-19. He expanded the quarantine to interisland flights on April 1.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported Wednesday that 488 trans-Pacific passengers arrived on Tuesday, including 139 visitors and 171 residents. In the 27 days since the quarantine began, some 3,542 visitors have arrived. That’s an average of more than 128 passengers a day who are visitors, although some are likely essential travelers.

Last year at this time, more than 30,000 passengers a day were flying to the state.

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