Thanks to its geographic isolation and clever management of COVID-19, Hawaii has had some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the US.
The downside is that Hawaii’s strict pandemic protocols have halted tourism, which usually accounts for a quarter of the economy, according to a Guardian report.
With nearly one-third of the state’s working population unemployed, Hawaii’s governor, David Ige, has already implemented a phased approach to reopening the non-tourism economy, or kama’aina (local) economy.
Businesses such as auto dealerships, car washes and pet grooming services reopened in May, while higher-risk businesses, such as restaurants, reopened at the start of June.
As of 16 June, locals were able to travel between Hawaiian islands without having to quarantine for two weeks.
Out-of-state travellers must still undergo a self-imposed 14-day quarantine. Governor Ige said this would be the case for US travellers while the nation experienced upticks in coronavirus cases.
“We are working very hard toward reopening out-of-state travel, but we’re not there yet,” he said in a statement.
“We are being very cautious. There are new virus flare-ups in key mainland markets – including California where more than 2000 new cases were reported yesterday. Oregon, Arizona and Texas are also reporting their highest number of new daily cases.”
However, the governor has the power to create transit corridors or ‘bubbles’ over the coming weeks, meaning if Australia is considered a safe country, Aussie tourists could head there once our own travel bans are lifted.
“The state needs to bring back tourism in some way. We need money,” said Colin Moore, the University of Hawaii public policy director.
“But the only way to make that work is to find a way to do it as safely as we can.”
Local authorities have set aside $36 million for airport temperature cameras which, for the foreseeable future, would screen all interstate and overseas arrivals to Hawaii’s airports.
“It does allow us to identify those who are most sick in a way that can be less intrusive than other screening methods,” said Governor Ige.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that thermal screening airport passengers may not be an effective detection strategy.
“It’s a lot of money to set up a system that makes people feel better but actually doesn’t catch many of the active cases that are coming in,” said research fellow at the University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organisation Emeritus Professor Sumner La Croix, who believes people should instead take a test before flying to Hawaii, and individuals who share their negative results with the state could then have the 14-day quarantine waived.
He acknowledged that this system would also have its flaws as test results are not always accurate and not everyone will do it, and that people flying to Hawaii could still be exposed to the virus in transit.
But, he said, it would prevent many asymptomatic people entering the state and make it easier to keep the number of new cases low.
“We’re going to have to deal with outbreaks, but that shouldn’t be our main policy,” said Prof. La Croix.
“Our main policy should be trying to prevent people who have active coronavirus infections from getting on planes.”
While testing, tracing, and isolation methods need to be bolstered before the state allows tourists to come back, maintaining low rates of COVID-19 in the meantime should encourage visitors to think of Hawaii as a safe place and, when the time is right, encourage them to visit.
Even after the quarantine is lifted, it could be years until Hawaii’s tourism economy returns to its previous figures. But the sooner borders are opened, the more people can get back to work and the state back on its feet.
Keep up to date with the governor’s announcements on Hawaii reopening for travel.
Would you visit Hawaii when the quarantine is lifted?
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