The first travelers to Hawaii not subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic could be from Japan, according to Gov. David Ige.
The governor raised the possibility today during a Honolulu Star-Advertiser Spotlight Hawaii discussion via Facebook Live, during which he also broached the subject of new restrictions on activity in the state if coronavirus cases don’t decrease this week.
Ige said Hawaii could welcome visitors from Japan before visitors from the mainland if a pre-travel testing program can be implemented along with an agreement with government officials in Japan.
However, Ige gave no indication of the likelihood of welcoming such visitors from Japan before the mainland.
“There’s not an explicit sequence that needs to happen,” he said. “If we can get agreements in Japan … if they are ready ahead of the domestic U.S., then we clearly would want to move forward with that. As you know, the virus activity is not as out of control in Japan or South Korea as it might be in the U.S.”
Ige also said Sept. 1 remains only a goal for welcoming visitors from the mainland without a 14-day quarantine restriction if travelers obtain a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of travel, and that the availability of testing and coronavirus case levels in Hawaii and in key mainland travel markets are an issue for allowing such travel.
“There is more work that needs to be done,” he said. “The number of cases here would have an impact. The number of cases in key markets on the mainland as well. … We will continue to work to put systems in place that’s necessary that would allow us to implement (quarantine-free travel) on Sept. 1 if we can get a hold and contain the virus here in our community to a much larger extent than we have been right now.”
Ige also noted that in key mainland markets it’s hard for people to get COVID-19 tests.
“So we continue to expand the network of organizations and businesses that are willing to provide a pre-travel testing for COVID-19, and whether they would be able to get the results back in 72 hours,” he said.
The governor addressed calls by some neighbor island mayors to reinstate a 14-day quarantine for interisland travel, and said this isn’t warranted based on case transmission information.
Ige said there have been about 13,000 interisland trips a week lately, and only a “handful” of COVID-19 cases are traced to travelers going from Oahu to a neighbor island or a neighbor island to Oahu.
“It’s not a big number,” he said.
Instead, “a lot” of positive coronavirus cases on the neighbor islands have been neighbor island residents who traveled to the mainland and then returned, Ige said.
Another idea the governor discussed regarding neighbor islands was whether public schools will be ready to open on Aug. 17 and if there could be different reopening timetables or safety protocols on different islands even though the state Department of Education is a statewide system.
Ige said this is possible because COVID-19 case numbers are concentrated on Oahu.
The conversation with Ige was held before the state Department of Health released the latest daily tally of new COVID-19 cases — a record 207 cases influenced by delayed test reports over the weekend. The prior high was 124 Thursday.
Ige said restricting more business activities and social gatherings are possible if the rise in cases doesn’t stop this week.
“We do need to see the number being contained,” he said. “If it continues to increase during this whole week, then I’m certain that the mayors and I would be looking at further action necessary. We all know that a complete shutdown is not something that we would want to do, because of the impact on our businesses. But if the numbers continue to increase then we may have to do that.”