Vaccines could lead to lifting of travel restrictions

Jessica Wong

HONOLULU — The state might loosen interisland travel restrictions as early as next month, with similar adjustments under consideration for trans-­Pacific travel, if vaccine distribution supports the plan. Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Star-Advertiser last week he supports loosening interisland travel restrictions, especially for vaccinated travelers. Green has recommended […]

HONOLULU — The state might loosen interisland travel restrictions as early as next month, with similar adjustments under consideration for trans-­Pacific travel, if vaccine distribution supports the plan.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Star-Advertiser last week he supports loosening interisland travel restrictions, especially for vaccinated travelers. Green has recommended loosening interisland travel restrictions as early as April 1. He’s also recommending allowing trans-Pacific travelers, who have been properly vaccinated, to bypass the testing and quarantine requirements on May 1.

Governments and companies around the world are working to develop a vaccine passport that could identify vaccinated individuals, who might qualify for less restrictive travel entry and other benefits. Green said he has reached out to mobile health apps, such as CommonPass, to discuss using their vaccination passport in Hawaii.

There also has been some buy-in among state lawmakers who are considering Senate Resolution 53 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 71, urging Gov. David Ige to allow travelers — interisland and trans-Pacific — to bypass the mandatory 10-day quarantine if they provide proof that they have been properly vaccinated.

Green said lifting interisland restrictions, with or without the vaccine tie-in, is under discussion with the four county mayors.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami and Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth on Friday said they supported loosening interisland restrictions if state officials felt ready.

“The discussion has been to drop travel restriction for interisland travel; it has nothing tied to vaccination. When the state is ready to drop restrictions for interisland travel, we will be ready for it,” Kawakami said. “We based that decision because our vaccine clinics here on Kauai are doing very well.”

Roth said he also supports lifting interisland travel restrictions even if the move wasn’t tied to vaccinations.

“My feeling is, yes, we are supportive either way for interisland. A lot of people are having difficult times. Paying $150 each way (for tests) — that is difficult for a lot of our families here,” he said.

However, Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said during a March 5 news conference that the move was premature.

On Thursday, Maui’s seven -day average of tests yielding positive results was 2.8 %, the highest in the state.

“At this point our numbers do not indicate that we are ready to open up and drop the interisland quarantine, ” Victorino said. “So at this point my answer to the question is no. In three weeks or in two weeks, we’ll see where our numbers are. Maybe it will be a different answer.”

When it comes to tweaks for trans-Pacific travelers who have been vaccinated, Roth said that as “long as our numbers stay low, I feel pretty comfortable supporting it.”

When it came to loosening trans-Pacific restrictions, Kawakami wasn’t opposed to the concept, but he questioned the timetable.

“Vaccines are something that we hope can lead to less restriction, ” he said. “I’m not sure if May 1 is a tangible date — and it’s just because we have not been a part of the discussion as far as the state being anywhere close to May 1 as a date that they were ready. But if so, that would be great. That’s why we are working so hard to get vaccines out to people.”

Mayor Rick Blangiardi did not respond last week to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s request for comment.

Green said he’s hopeful that consensus on the vaccine-related loosening of travel restrictions comes in time for tourism-dependent Hawaii to keep its edge, especially as more destinations compete for summer business.

“We’ve still got a few weeks,” he said.

Chris Kam, OmniTrak Group’s president and chief operating officer, said the start of more meaningful tourism recovery isn’t projected until the fourth quarter. However, he expects pent-up demand from U.S. travelers and wider vaccine distribution and acceptance could lead to a bump in summer travel for Hawaii.

“The vaccine has made a world of difference — it’s literally a shot in the arm for tourism, ” Kam said. “Market sentiment is improving really quickly, and travel intentions are improving really quickly and a lot of it has to do with vaccinations.”

Kam said OmniTrak’s latest TravelTrak America survey noted that only 30% or so of U.S. travelers surveyed in the fourth quarter had plans to get the vaccination as soon as they could. As of March that number had increased to 56%, he said.

“Widespread acceptance of the vaccine among travelers has really jumped, and with that so has sentiment toward travel and willingness to leave the house and go on leisure vacations, ” Kam said.

In OmniTrak’s fourth-quarter TravelTrak America survey, Kam said only 33% of travelers had travel plans in the next six months, 32% were considering traveling and 34% had no plans. Now, he said, 51% of travelers surveyed by OmniTrak said they planned to travel in the next six months, 33% are considering traveling and only 16% had no plans.

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