'Leave Our Aina!': Hawaiians want tourists off the islands after they blatantly flout social distancing rules
The local people are worried about an outbreak as tourists from mainland US continue to visit the island, thanks to cheap airfare and hotel booking
The coronavirus outbreak has been particularly threatening for popular tourist destinations around the world because of the gathering of a large number of people. The state of Hawaii is no exception.
In February, when the outbreak was slowly gaining momentum, travelers in the island-state were worried over the large footfalls that could worsen the situation since COVID-19 is highly transmissible.
A number of airline carriers, including Hawaiian Airlines, decided to suspend services to and from other countries where the pandemic hit.
As a result, Hawaii's tourism-based economy was hit and 37 percent of its labor force has already lost jobs. However, local residents are more upset because of another reason. People from mainland US are continuing to enter various islands of Hawaii during the crisis, thanks to cheap flights and hotel rooms.
Worse, the tourists are flouting the social-distancing measures even while local people are abiding by the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the virus that has claimed more than 42,000 lives in the US so far, making it the worst-affected nation in the world.
"Locals are following the orders, staying home. But there are people, who are clearly tourists, here by the dozens," the Guardian quoted Troy Kane, a resident of Oahu island, as saying. "They're still out here, still in groups of seven or more, still coming, and that's a problem."
Kane, who is also a community representative of Waimanalo and a neighborhood board member, said the native Hawaiian and Micronesian people who reside on the islands are vulnerable to contracting the disease.
"People will always see this place as their playground. And at this moment, as a Native Hawaiian, this is very reflective of many historical circumstances, where people from outside the islands have come in and caused real harm to the native population. It's not always with the direct intent to do so, but the impacts, especially on Hawaiian people, are very real," he added.
According to the Guardian, cheap airfares of $100 are luring people, who are otherwise quarantined in the mainland, to go to Hawaii for vacation. Last week, nearly 800 tourists entered the islands, enraging local residents and officials who have sought their exit.
Hawaiian Airlines though decided to suspend all its non-essential flights between the island and the mainland in the fourth week of March.
Hawaii, which has a population of around 1.4 million, has seen 580 confirmed cases and 10 deaths as of Monday, April 20. About 35 of those affected have been outsiders.
Local residents protest at airport
Last month, the local people of Hawaii protested against tourists arriving at the airport on the island of Maui. They held banners that read: "TOURIST GO HOME", "LEAVE OUR AINA!", "TIME TO GO" and "GO HOME".
Even the island-state's healthcare members are not impressed. Josh Masslon, an ICU nurse in Maui, said Hawaii's healthcare system will not be able to tackle a virus outbreak and called the situation with the tourist influx "beyond frustrating", the Guardian report added.
He even called the police a number of times when he saw tourists on the beaches. Arguments between tourists and local people are also continuing to flood social media.
On Facebook and Instagram, many travelers were seen writing "See you soon" and "We only care about our opinion" against the native people's objections. In late March, there was an incident in Waikiki near capital Honolulu where a family of four that came from Illinois was assaulted and the tires of their rental car were flattened.
Tulsi Gabbard unhappy with COVID-19 response
At the administrative level, too, things are not running too smoothly over the pandemic. State Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who was running for this year's presidential contest until recently, asked Governor David Ige to fire two top officials of the state's health department over their handling of the crisis situation.
According to the Democrat, Bruce Anderson and Sarah Park have endangered the lives of the Hawaiians by their delayed response towards containing the spread of the epidemic. Anderson is the state's director of health and Park is an epidemiologist.