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Japan includes Hawaii on list of 12 approved travel locations; no start date set

The state of Hawaii is on an exclusive list of 12 countries and regions that Japan leaders are considering for the resumption of safe international travel, officials announced today.

The new Japan-Hawaii Safe Travel Program, announced by Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, would be tightly regulated to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections. It would require proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction test result prior to travel, in addition to a required examination of travelers upon entry to Japan.

“On behalf of the State of Hawaii, we are honored that Prime Minister Abe and Japan’s policy makers are considering Hawaii for resuming safe and responsible international travel,” said Ige in a news release. “Japan and Hawaii enjoy longstanding cultural ties and a deep-rooted friendship that has enriched the lives of many generations. It’s important that we restore travel between Japan and Hawaii and we see this program as a way to make this possible, while also preventing the further spread of infections from COVID-19.”

Hawaii is the only state in the United States under consideration for Japan’s international travel program. Others on the list include China, South Korea, Taiwan, and several European countries.

However, specific details for the Japan-Hawaii program are still being resolved, according to Ige, and no timetable has been set for when it would begin.

“Providing safe travel for both residents and visitors is vital to strengthening our state’s economic health and long-term recovery,” said Ige in a statement. “Protecting the public’s health will always be our first priority and the foundation for which any economic recovery program is built upon, including trans-Pacific travel,”

House Speaker Scott Saiki, chair of the Japan Hawai‘i Legislators Friendship Association, was instrumental in getting the state included on the list through discussions with the country’s top policy makers.

“We are thankful for this expression of confidence by Japan for the eventual renewal of travel with Hawaii,” said Saiki in the release. “It’s just as important for Hawaii residents to be able to travel again to Japan to connect with family members, conduct business, and experience historic cultural sites, as it is for us to welcome the people of Japan back to Hawaii.”

Ige had previously announced plans for a testing program that would also allow trans-Pacific travelers with an approved negative COVID-19 test to fly into Hawaii and bypass the state’s mandatory, 14-day quarantine, which has been in place since March 26.

The pre-travel testing program was initially expected to start Aug. 1, but has since been pushed back to Sept. 1 due to a recent surge in coronavirus cases both in Hawaii and on the U.S. mainland.

Many tourism and government officials had previously suggested the idea of forming a “travel bubble” between places with low coronavirus counts, including Hawaii and Japan.

The Tokyo Olympics, which was originally scheduled to begin this month, has been postponed to July 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Similar to Japan, a lot of work has been accomplished to make Hawaii as safe as possible from the spread of the coronavirus since international travel was suspended in March.” said Saiki. “We are getting closer to the point where travel between Japan and Hawaii can be restarted, while staying focused on protecting people’s health. When that occurs, it will be a big step forward to reviving a segment that is important to the overall economic health of Hawaii and its people.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of days required by the state’s mandatory quarantine.

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