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Alarm over new COVID-19 variant already causing economic hardship

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As health experts work to determine the severity of COVID’s Omicron variant, or if vaccines will protect against it, some Hawaii residents are already being negatively impacted.

HONOLULU (KITV4) -- Hawaiian musician Sean Na'auao was banking on soon debuting his long awaited album in Japan after a two-year delay due to COVID-19.

But his hopes were quickly crushed.

"Because Japan is such a big, big market for Hawaiian music, I felt that I wanted to wait until Japan actually opens. But now that they're closing borders. Now it's, you know, almost back to square one," he said.

Japan's his biggest market for sales of his music and merchandise. He said the same's true for many local entertainers, who've been holding out hope that business would soon return.

"It really takes its toll, you know, for musicians such as myself frequenting Japan almost every other month pre pandemic. And now to have that all taken away from not from us because of COVID, you know, it's it's really frustrating," Na'auao said.

The world's eagerly awaiting more information about the new omicron COVID-19 variant. It's considered a "very high" global risk. Health experts still don't know the severity of disease caused by the variant or if vaccines will protect against it.

Spirits were high entering the holiday season as Hawaii's restrictions were lifted. But news of the new variant's now putting a damper on travel and tourism.

"I hope and pray that we'll come up with the right solution to cope with this because obviously it's going to affect a lot of people again if we have to stop everything that we're moving forward on with our tourism economy," said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.

The tourism industry's been on a rollercoaster, with visitor arrivals falling more than 30% in October compared the same time before the pandemic, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Tourism leaders were looking forward to the return of the Japanese -- Hawaii's biggest international market.

"No one wants to be yo-yoed around and so forth and certainly stop and go, stop and go," Hannemann said.

"I'm just hoping that this whole, you know, cycle that we're going through again and again will eventually stop," Na'auao added.

Produced in partnership with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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