Leader of state’s COVID-19 response: Economic strife could lead to ‘civil unrest’

State’s coronavirus incident commander warns of potential for unrest, riots if economic strife continues

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor’s cautious approach to reopening the economy drew harsh warnings Monday from the business and government leaders who are advising him.

One of their concerns is the possibility of riots.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, incident commander of the state's COVID-19 response, said he was frustrated when leaders failed this weekend to come up with a schedule for reopening the economy.

And he had an ominous warning: Hara said if nothing changes, there could be violence.

"If we let the economy go the way it's going, there will be significant civil unrest that could lead to civil disobedience and, in the worst case, civil disturbance and rioting," Hara told members of the House Select Committee on COVID-19.

At a bews conference later in the afternoon, Ige said he doesn’t believe the situation will get that bad.

“As the general always does, he is always planning for the worst-case scenario,” Ige said. “I do not believe that we would get to civil unrest here in our community, just judging by the public’s response to the mandates and, more importantly, everyone doing their part.”

Hara also told the House committee that state leaders have to accept the risk of some new infections as a trade off for opening the economy.

All agreed the public needs to see a reopening plan now, and most committee members said they hope tourism can be opened up safely by the end of summer.

The holdup over the reopening seems to stem from how much the health department needs to expand its testing and contract tracing capabilities, which could include hiring hundreds more employees.

State Health Department leaders have said they already have enough staff on-hand and enough trainees in the pipeline if the situation worsens.

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