Group of Residents Protest Tourism Over Coronavirus Concerns

March 20, 2020, 3:10 PM HST · Updated March 22, 10:27 AM
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Photo courtesy: Autumn Ness

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases here in Hawai’i continues to rise, Gov. David Ige is asking visitors to reschedule trips until the pandemic subsides.

But some Maui County residents are calling for more stringent action–staging protests on Maui and Moloka’i against all tourism arrivals.

“‘Maui is closed.’ That’s the message community leaders are bringing to Maui airports, protesting the continued arrivals of visitors to Maui in an attempt to prevent further spread of COVID19,” a press release from organizers read.

Organizers say that frustrations “flared” as Gov. Ige urged all state employees to limit non-essential travel on Tuesday, online ticket companies continue to offer discounted flights and hotel packages to Maui.

“It’s time for the community to step up and protect our kūpuna and most vulnerable. If our government will not, we have no choice but to make it clear, right now visitors are not welcome,” resident Kaena Elaban said.

“We will share no aloha with those who come knowing the possibilities of infecting our people for a cheap vacation. Aloha ʻĀina is not just the love of our land but as the translation is with our Polynesian cousins, the love of our people. We stand again for the well being of our communities.”

A protest at Moloka’i airport Wednesday morning drew about 50 people, holding signs that read “tourists stay home” and “Protect our Moloka’i.”

The ʻAha Kiole o Molokaʻi issued a statement on Tuesday that reads, “Our island home is the sanctuary for our families, children, and kūpuna. We are faced with an unprecedented threat throughout the world in the form of a pandemic virus. Now, the State of Hawaiʻi, too, is beginning to tally the effects of COVID-19 among island residents, spreading exponentially throughout the paeʻāina.”

On Facebook, many non-residents claimed to have rescheduled their visits in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“If you love and respect Maui, then listen up. Maui is CLOSED…Not just for our protection but for yours as well. Not forever, but until we can ensure the safety and protection of our island and our people. Our tourism industry is portraying to the world that Hawaii is still a safe place to visit. Our current hospital is already at capacity as of yesterday,” organizer Koa Hewahewa said.

Organizers asked participants on social media to practice social distancing, to stay 10-plus feet away from others, and to not honi, hug, or touch other attendees.

Demonstrations were held all day on Wednesday and Thursday, and are slated to continue until this evening.

State Health officials note that of the 37 positive test results to date, 32 of them are the result of traveling residents who returned home after traveling.

“At this time, there may be residents returning home from a school that has closed or from other essential travel. It is important for all travelers to monitor their health for 14 days after traveling and to stay at home if they become sick and avoid exposing others,” said a spokesperson from the state Department of Health.

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