Local politicians and business owners criticize Hawaii's new COVID-19 pre-travel policy

Photo of Fernando Martinez

Last week, Hawaii Gov. David Ige tightened the state’s COVID-19 pre-travel plans, requiring all travelers to have a confirmed negative coronavirus test before arriving in the island nation.

The previous policy allowed travelers who had not been tested to quarantine until their test results came back. Under the new policy, travelers must show proof of a negative coronavirus test. Otherwise, they will be quarantined for two weeks, even if test results come back negative.

The policy change has upset local politicians and business owners, including Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat. Some critics cite the island’s low infection rate of visitors and its recovering economy as reason enough to stick to the original policy.

“This doesn’t serve the public very well,” Saiki said in a bi-monthly meeting this past Monday of the Hawaii House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness.

Mufi Hannemann, the former Honolulu mayor who now heads the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, said the tourism industry group had grave concerns. Hannemann alleged Ige’s administration had not consulted any of them in their decision making.

Following criticism, Ige released a statement on Monday saying the policy change was meant to protect the island’s residents and to prepare for an upcoming holiday season that was likely to see a greater number of travelers.

“While only a handful of visitors receive a positive test each day following their arrival, it was enough to compel us to make the policy change, especially as more people travel to Hawaii to celebrate the holidays,” Ige said in the statement. “We must take every precaution to ensure the safety of our community, and that our hospitals have the capacity to care for those in need of treatment.”

About 270,000 people had traveled under the original policy with only 44 arriving with a test pending that later turned out to be positive.

“It’s not a large number, but it’s enough to change the policy,” Ige said last week.

Just 44 of 270,000 is “a very, very, very small percentage,” said Ray Vara, the chief executive of the island hospital giant Hawaii Pacific Health. Vara also said he does not want to see the island’s economy worsen.

“Things are tough enough right now,” said Peter Ho, chairman, president and chief executive of Bank of Hawaii, adding that this new policy change is not helpful to the island’s recent economic recovery.

Read the full story here.

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