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Major Waikiki hotel temporarily closing amid virus outbreak


HONOLULU — One of Waikiki's largest hotels said Friday that it will close for at least the next few weeks in response to the coronavirus.

The Hale Koa Hotel is an 818-room hotel run by the U.S. military for service members, veterans and their families. It occupies 72 acres of prime beachfront in Waikiki, the centre of tourism in Hawaii.

“It is now apparent that this crisis requires collective action to slow its progression in the United States. Guests will be asked to return to their home station as soon as they can make the necessary travel arrangements,” the hotel said in a statement on its website.

There have been no reported cases of the disease at the hotel. It is waiving cancellation and early departure fees. It's continuing to accept reservations for dates after April 15 but said it will make a determination on reopening when it's safe for guests and staff.

Gov. David Ige has asked travellers to postpone their vacations for the next 30 days as the state tries to slow the spread of the virus. To date, 37 people in Hawaii have tested positive for the disease. All had either travelled out of state or had close contact with someone who did.

Other state leaders, including House Speaker Scott Saiki, Lt. Gov. Josh Green and a Senate special committee on the virus, have called on Ige to take a tougher stance, saying he should impose a two-week quarantine on arriving passengers.

Saiki also called for “an immediate statewide shutdown” for the next 15 days.

The Honolulu City Council said the governor should order the Hawaii Tourism Authority and travel industry to immediately halt all advertising campaigns luring travellers with discounted rates.

Ige has directed bars and clubs to close and for restaurants to only serve takeout or delivery meals. State and county officials have closed parks. Popular visitor destinations like the USS Arizona and Iolani Palace have closed.

Other states, including California, New York and Illinois, have ordered people to stay at home except to get essentials.

Six Hawaii residents were allowed to leave a cruise ship that arrived to Honolulu Harbor Friday after being turned away from other ports.

Hawaii officials previously said passengers on Holland America Line's Maasdam cruise ship would be allowed to disembark and catch flights home.

Some in Hawaii had called for protests to block cruise ship passengers from disembarking.

The state reversed course and later said the ship would only be allowed to re-fuel and re-supply in Honolulu.

The Harbors Division of the state Department of Transportation will only allow Hawaii residents to disembark, according to the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19.

The Maasdam, with 842 guests and 542 crew members, was taking on fuel and provisions Friday afternoon. In addition to the six Hawaii passengers, two other U.S. citizens were allowed to disembark for medical reasons, the cruise line said in a statement.

There are no cases of coronavirus on the ship, officials and the cruise line have said.

Another cruise ship with no coronavirus cases that's been turned away by other ports, the Norwegian Jewel, is expected to arrive to Honolulu Sunday with about 1,700 passengers. It's unclear how many Hawaii residents are on that ship.

Paulette Stathakos, 72, who lives in Oahu's Ko Olina resort, said she's relieved she'll finally get to go home. She said she hasn't walked on land since Fiji about two weeks ago.

“I am happy. Oh, my God,” she said Friday from the ship. “I thought we were not going to be able to disembark in Honolulu. There were all kinds of rumours going around.”

Her travel agent had made flight arrangements from New Zealand and American Samoa, only to have to cancel them after being turned away. They were able to refuel at American Samoa's Port of Pago Pago.

She's wondering if Hawaii officials will quarantine her.

“I don’t mind but there have been no incidents on this ship,” she said. “Everyone is healthy.”

Audrey McAvoy And Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, The Associated Press