The contagious COVID-19 delta variant continues to sweep rapidly through regions around the world, casting a dark shadow on the hope of resuming travel and tourism again.
In the United States, which has had nearly 38 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 629,800 deaths, the situation is serious as delta-fuelled cases surge across the country.
The concerns extend far out into the Pacific Ocean as well, to the U.S. state of Hawaii, where Gov. David Ige is asking tourists to reduce non-essential travel to the islands as communities struggle to contain the virus.
Gov. Ing, on Monday (Aug. 23), asked that visitors and residents to limit their movement to essential travel only, saying that it is a “risky time to be travelling right now.”
"We know that it is not a good time to travel to the islands," Ige told media. "The visitors who choose to come to the islands will not have the typical kind of holiday that they expect to get when they visit."
As such, Ige wants to restrict travel to Hawaii through the end of October, the Associated Press reported, but stopped short of mandating specific restrictions.
The Governor asked visitors to stay away to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
"Certainly, our call to reduce travel to the islands to only central businesses will have an impact on the numbers who come here, but I also would like to point out that our hospitals are at capacity, our ICUs are full. We are working on surge plans and every facility to expand capacity, we're transitioning acute care beds to be able to support those who are sick," he said, as reported by CNN.
Access to amenities on the islands, such as restaurants and car rentals, is already limited and gatherings for indoor and outdoor activities (weddings included) have strict capacity limits.
The situation in Hawaii is still different now compared to last year when the islands required mandatory quarantine of all visitors, Ige said.
“Last year in March, when I first asked for visitors to postpone travel to the islands, we saw a 60 per cent reduction in the traffic to Hawaii” Ige said. “And then certainly, ordering the mandatory quarantine of all incoming visitors reduced travel to the islands by 99.5 per cent, essentially 100 per cent of travellers.”
The rise in COVID-19 vaccinations have certainly loosened some restrictions, which has allowed more opportunities for residents to travel domestically.
“The status quo is not working"
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Hiro Toiya, Honolulu’s emergency management director, presented a mathematical modelling tool from the Georgia Institute of Technology to illustrate the role gatherings play in increasing local cases.
The modelling showed that there is a 20 per cent chance that someone in a group of 10 will have COVID-19 given the number of COVID-19 cases on Oahu now. However, in group of 100, that chance goes up to 90 per cent.
“So when you’re looking at how transmissible delta is, we really got to control these large gatherings,” Toiya told reporters. “The status quo is not working, and it’s not acceptable.”
In Honolulu, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people, and restaurants are limited to 50 per cent capacity.
"Covid-19 cases are up dramatically, and our healthcare workers are being pushed beyond their limits," Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi tweeted on Monday.
Blangiardi stated that starting August 25, the city will be suspending all large gatherings for four weeks, including trade shows, conventions, concerts and other live events.