Hawaii has been included in a preliminary list of countries and regions Japan is considering as it reboots international travel in a limited fashion.
The Japan-Hawaii Safe Travel Program, announced by Japan prime minister Shinzo Abe and foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi on July 26, would require pretravel coronavirus testing and medical evaluation of returning travelers.
The program includes a dozen countries and regions under consideration by Japanese officials as they resume travel, including China, South Korea, Myanmar, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and several European countries. Hawaii is the only U.S. state on the list.
"On behalf of the state of Hawaii, we are honored that Prime Minister Abe and Japan's policy makers are considering Hawaii for resuming safe and responsible international travel," Hawaii Gov. David Ige in a statement. "Japan and Hawaii enjoy longstanding cultural ties and a deep-rooted friendship that has enriched the lives of many generations. It's important that we restore travel between Japan and Hawaii, and we see this program as a way to make this possible, while also preventing the further spread of infections from Covid-19."
Specific details for the Japan-Hawaii program are still being ironed out, according to Ige, and there is no timetable for launching the program.
"Providing safe travel for both residents and visitors is vital to strengthening our state's economic health and long-term recovery," Ige said. "Protecting the public's health will always be our first priority and the foundation for which any economic recovery program is built upon, including trans-Pacific travel."
Ige had previously announced plans for a testing program that would also allow trans-Pacific travelers with an approved negative Covid-19 test to fly into Hawaii and bypass the state's mandatory, 14-week quarantine, which has been in place since March 26. The pretravel testing program was initially expected to start Aug. 1, but has since been pushed back to Sept. 1 due to a recent surge in coronavirus cases both in Hawaii and on the U.S. mainland.
Japan is Hawaii's No. 1 international market by far, with only the U.S. mainland sending more visitors to the islands each year. Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki, who is also chair of the Japan Hawaii Legislators Friendship Association, played a key role in working with Japanese officials to include the Aloha State in the travel program.
"Similar to Japan, a lot of work has been accomplished to make Hawaii as safe as possible from the spread of the coronavirus since international travel was suspended in March," Saiki said. "We are getting closer to the point where travel between Japan and Hawaii can be restarted, while staying focused on protecting people's health. When that occurs, it will be a big step forward to reviving a segment that is important to the overall economic health of Hawaii and its people."