Green light for travelers from Japan

  • BIRCH

The executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau said the organization Hawaii Tourism Japan “has already got an initial marketing campaign set” for attracting Japanese visitors back to the islands.

“I do know that Japan Airlines is looking at flying back into Kona very soon, sometime within November, as long as this process is smooth and everything works in the right direction,” said Ross Birch on Wednesday.

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Birch was referring to the process set in place now that the state Department of Health approved a COVID-19 testing plan by the Japanese government that will allow travelers from Japan to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Hawaii.

Once a list of trusted partners of test providers in Japan is established, visitors from that nation can skip the quarantine if they get a negative COVID-19 Nucleic Acid Amplification Test, or NAAT, authorized by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare from a trusted partner within 72 hours prior to their departure for Hawaii. They would be required to show proof of a negative test result upon arrival in order to bypass the 14-day quarantine.

The DOH is in discussions with various Japanese medical institutions as it secures a list of trusted testing partners in Japan, the DOH said in a Wednesday afternoon statement.

Additionally, the state “looks forward to working collaboratively with all levels of the Japanese government to identify trusted testing partners and to make this pre-travel testing program a success,” the DOH said.

As soon as Japan’s trusted testing partners are confirmed, the information will be posted on the Hawaii COVID-19 information website — hawaiicovid19.com.

Birch said Japanese visitors arriving on the Big Island will be subject to a post-arrival rapid-response antigen test administered by Hawaii County to avoid quarantine — the same requirement for trans-Pacific arrivals to the island starting today.

A Japanese-language version of the state’s Safe Travels app, where arriving visitors upload information sought by local authorities, including results of coronavirus-testing, should already be complete, Birch said.

“I think it’s already set,” he said. “I think they’re working with the contractor now, having it (translated) in all languages necessary.”

For now, Japanese nationals traveling abroad are still subject to a 14-day quarantine upon their return to the country, but Birch thinks that might change.

“I think once we have the relationship set up for the bubble travel, I don’t think there will be a 14-day quarantine for them returning — as long as our location is approved as one of the locations that they’re accepting,” he said.

Hawaii has historically been a prime destination for Japanese tourists, and Birch thinks demand for an island vacation remains strong in Japan.

“I think the Japanese market is definitely looking for ways to travel, but also for those destinations that are somewhat under control,” he said. “I think we’re on a borderline here in Hawaii, but fortunately, they’ve selected us as one of their approved destinations. And once that kicks in, we’ll have more and more (visitors) … up into next year.”

Restrictions on U.S. travel into Japan still remain in place.

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The state is set to begin its pre-travel testing program for U.S. mainland travelers today.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.