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With COVID rules dropping, things are looking up for Hawaii’s economic recovery

Experts say a full comeback will still take some time.
Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 4:32 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2022 at 6:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The end of county-based COVID restrictions impacting businesses is expected to speed up Hawaii’s economic recovery.

But experts say a full comeback will still take some time.

In the middle of the Omicron surge, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization presented three forecasts in terms of financial impact ― base, pessimistic, and optimistic.

As cases decline and restrictions go away, UHERO Executive Director Carl Bonham says we are trending toward a positive forecast.

“People were already beginning to make their adjustments, so the rule changes will help,” Bonham said. “They’ll make it a little bit easier and mostly, it’ll be easier on the businesses. It won’t be as complicated.”

The dropping of restrictions such as Safe Access Oahu represent a hurdle cleared for the state’s restaurant industry.

Incoming Hawaii Restaurant Association chair Ryan Tanaka says he expects some business to still enforce their own COVID-guidelines, but feels most are ready to move on.

“It’s an individual restaurant owner choice, but the vast majority, I expect to completely sunset any type of vaccination program,” Tanaka said.

“It’s more challenging for staff to have that vaccination check at check-in.”

In a recent report, state forecasters predict a 3.2% jump in economic growth this year. Visitor spending is projected to hit nearly $17 billion, a near 94% recovery from 2019 levels.

Japan recently adjusted its quarantine guidelines for those fully vaccinated and boosted and Bonham says that market is the key to full-recovery.

“There’s still barriers and the real optimistic scenario is when you get full relaxation of international travel restrictions and we’re seeing some of these,” Bonham said.

Despite the move toward optimism, other concerns remain. Among them: The supply chain crisis, rising inflation, and energy crunch worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Global oil prices moved over $100 a barrel Tuesday.

“Once you create the bottleneck, it takes a really long time for it to get cleared out,” Bonham said. “We’re sort of working through that and then we get this extra pile on effect of Russia invading Ukraine and disrupting oil supplies.”

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