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Omicron variant hasn’t yet been detected in Hawaii but it’s already impacting travel

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 5:24 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2021 at 5:47 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor says it’s only a matter of time before the Omicron variant is detected in the United States.

No cases of the COVID mutation have yet been found in Hawaii.

On Monday, Gov. David Ige signed his latest emergency proclamation related to COVID, easing the state’s gathering restrictions effective Dec. 1 and giving control over the rules to the counties.

He also said Hawaii is monitoring the evolving situation with the Omicron mutation.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble says the Omicron variant is particularly concerning because it has a large number of mutations.

Scientists are concerned it could be even more transmissible than the Delta variant.

“We don’t yet know a lot about how dangerous it is to people,” Kemble said.

“Does it cause similarly severe disease, more severe, or less severe? Those are questions that all state epidemiologists are asking right now and anxious to know.”

Amid fears over the variant, more countries are banning travel from South Africa ― where Omicron was first detected. Cases have been found in Canada and Japan has banned all foreign travel coming to country and imposed longer quarantines for returning Japanese residents.

Dr. Tim Brown, East-West Center senior fellow, said travel bans may slow the mutation’s spread but they won’t stop it. “It’s really a question of whether there’s fertile ground when it gets there,” he said.

Regarding upcoming international travel, he added, “I’d be extremely cautious (about traveling) just in the sense that any country is likely to slap on restrictions at any point in time.”

Travel experts say the news is not good for Hawaii’s tourism industry, which is hoping for the return of Japanese visitors.

“For the Japanese visitor market, we’ve now taken three steps back not just two steps back. We are back to before square one,” said Jerry Agrusa, professor at the UH School of Travel Industry Management.

“Hopefully, they’ll find that this variant isn’t as deadly and isn’t as contagious so we can catch up.”

Dr. Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon, says the scaled down event on Dec. 12 is expecting less than 500 entrants from Japan ― which he calls “shockingly low numbers.”

The event is expecting between 6,000 to 7,000 participants, mostly from Hawaii, and Barahal says organizers felt it was important to move forward with the event in some form.

“Specifically with an event like this, in this environment with the threat of a new variant, I have not seen any evidence that outdoor activities are not safe. In fact, they are totally safe,” he said.

Meanwhile, given the new variant’s potential for problems, scientists are urging people to get vaccinated, boosted and continuing wearing masks indoors.

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