Hawaii has joined the growing list of destinations proposing a travel bubble to Australia, with travellers allowed to skip a 14-day quarantine and head straight from airport to hotel resort to beach.
The island-state was able to adopt strict measures to bring the pandemic under control, and now has one of the lowest per-capita rates of infection and death in the United States.
Hawaii Governor David Ige said on Wednesday said from August 1, travellers arriving from the US mainland "who have a valid negative Covid-19 test prior to arriving will not be subject to the 14-day mandatory quarantine."
Ige said Hawaii continues to discuss establishing "travel bubbles" with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, given that these countries all share low infection rates.
However, he acknowledged the challenge in communicating that while the virus continues to almost run rampant in other parts of the US, Hawaii should be seen in a more positive light rather than lumped in with the mainland.
"We recognize that there are many concerns that continue," Ige said. "We believe this process of pre-testing does allow us to bring travelers back to Hawaii in a way that maintains a priority on the health and safety of our community."
Ige said that a test taken 72 hours before passengers arrived in Hawaii would be a "reasonable" timeframe, although inbound passengers would also be screened for high temperatures and virus symptoms.
The decision is driven by a need to restart Hawaii's economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism. The state tourism body says that more than 10.4 million visitors came to the islands last year, supporting some 216,000 jobs in a population of some 1.4 million.
“People do need to get back to work, but it must be done in a manner that protects the health of our community,” Ige said, reasoning that the pre-testing plan will allow the tourism industry to reopen without a significant spike in new Covid-19 cases.
"This multilayered, pre-travel testing and screening process allows travelers an alternative to the 14-day travel quarantine in a way that protects the health and safety of our community and visitors. Now is the time to work together to ensure that our local businesses can safely reopen to incoming travellers."
“We need to return to welcoming visitors to our shores," added Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. "For the state of Hawaii, we have approximately 240,000 unemployed people. We’re not going to see a return to a level of employment that we had before unless we open up to visitors."
Qantas, Jetstar and Hawaiian Airlines have all operated the 11-hour flight between Australia and Hawaii, although of course these now remain suspended.