HONOLULU — Several airlines are halting flights to regions in Asia in light of the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, and the state Department of Health is suggesting residents start planning and gathering supplies should an outbreak happen in Hawai‘i.
Wednesday, Hawaiian Airlines announced it would be suspending flights from the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu to Incheon International Airport in South Korea from March 1 through April 30, citing a spike on COVID-19 cases in South Korea.
Travelers who already have upcoming travel booked between Feb. 24 through May 1 can rebook travel starting Oct. 31.
The last Hawaiian Airlines flight before the suspension is Flight 459, scheduled to depart Honolulu at 1:10 p.m. March 1 and arrive at Incheon March 2 at 8 p.m. Flight 460 will depart Incheon at 10 p.m. March 2 and arrive at HNL at 11 a.m. the same day. Service is scheduled to resume on May 1 from Honolulu and May 2 from Incheon.
Delta also reduced the number of weekly flights offered between the U.S. and Seoul-Incheon airport in South Korea on Wednesday, effective from Feb 29. through April 30.
The carrier announced in a Wednesday news release that it will suspend service between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Incheon, with the last flight departing Minneapolis for Incheon on Feb. 28 and departing Incheon for Minneapolis on Feb. 29. Delta will also reduce to five times weekly its service between Incheon and Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle through April 30. The airline’s new service from Incheon to Manila, previously scheduled to begin March 29, will now start on May 1.
Both airlines said the safety of employees and customers are top priorities, and that they’re watching the situation.
“We believe a temporary service suspension is prudent given the escalation of COVID-19 in South Korea and the impact the illness has had on demand for leisure travel from that country,” said Peter Ingram, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines in a Wednesday statement.
“We will continue to closely monitor the situation and extend our support for public-health efforts to contain the virus. We apologize for this inconvenience and are working to support impacted guests.”
Delta said in their Wednesday announcement that staff members remain “in constant contact with the foremost communicable disease experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and local health officials to respond to the coronavirus as well as ensure training, policies, procedures and cabin cleaning and disinfection measures meet and exceed guidelines.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called for suspensions of flights not only from South Korea, but also from Japan, in a Wednesday statement.
“In order to protect the people of Hawai‘i, we must now suspend flights from Japan and South Korea where the virus has been spreading,” said Gabbard.
”It is irresponsible for our leaders to endanger the health and wellbeing of Hawai‘i’s people by continuing to allow travel from Japan and South Korea. I know there will be economic hardship, but it will pale in comparison to the cost in lives and economic damage to Hawai‘i and our country if we don’t suspend travel from these countries,” said Gabbard.
“Unfortunately, our leaders are depending upon the same procedures they used with the SARS epidemic. But that will not be sufficient, because the coronavirus spreads much more easily than SARS,” she said.
She continued: “Once it enters Hawai‘i, it will spread like wildfire, and then it will be too late. We need to take action now to protect the people of Hawai‘i and our nation.”
Meanwhile, state health officials are urging people to bolster their 14-day emergency kits in case of an outbreak, maintaining on Wednesday there haven’t been any cases of COVID-19 identified in the state, and no one is under investigation.
“At this time the imminent threat here in Hawaii is low,” DOH said in a Wednesday release. “Nevertheless, state and county agencies are intensifying their preparations.”
Health experts say the kits should include water, food and other necessities, and should be stocked similar to hurricane kits. Other suggestions include setting aside an emergency supply — DOH recommends a three-month supply — of any needed medications, and keeping copies of prescriptions in case medications run out.
CDC is bracing for the virus to spread across America, according to a Wednesday briefing on the virus in which officials said, “it’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather a question of exactly when.”
In that Wednesday briefing on the spread of the virus, Benjamin Haynes with the CDC cited news about the recent spread of COVID-19 into communities in Hong Kong, Italy, Iran, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
“This means that cases of COVID-19 are appearing without a known source of exposure,” Haynes said in the briefing. “Community spread is often a trigger to begin implementing new strategies tailored to local circumstances that blunt the impact of disease and can slow the spread of virus.”
Haynes said the fact that the virus has caused illness, including illness that has resulted in death, and sustained person-to-person spread, is “concerning.”
“These factors meet two of the criteria of the pandemic. The world moves closer towards meeting the third criteria — worldwide spread of the new virus,” Haynes said.
CDC is monitoring the country for cases and implementing strategies that include containment — quarantine — to prevent new points of entry.
Wednesday, 83 people went into self-quarantine, according to reports out of Nassau County, Americans who had recently returned form China. Currently quarantines are for 14 days.
As the world, and Hawai‘i, braces for the possibility of outbreak and pandemic, state health officials remind the public of the tried-and-true steps to stopping the spread of respiratory illness.
Those steps include proper and frequent hand washing, avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth, avoiding contact with people who are sick, staying home when you are sick, properly covering coughs and sneezes, and regular cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces.
Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.