Photo/Illutration Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki speaks at a news conference at the prefectural government’s office on April 24. (Provided by Okinawa Times)

While Okinawa would normally welcome tourists with open arms during the upcoming national Golden Week holidays, Governor Denny Tamaki is asking them to stay away this year.

Startled and alarmed by the fact that thousands of people are still expected to travel to the southernmost island prefecture, Tamaki on April 26 posted a message on Twitter pleading, “Please cancel your trip to Okinawa now.”

“I am sorry to tell you this but Okinawa is under a state of emergency,” Tamaki wrote. “There is no way we can provide the very best ‘omotenashi’ (hospitality).”

Tamaki is hoping to change people's minds about flying across the country to Okinawa while Japan is under the national state of emergency to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The governor cited an estimate, based on airline companies’ reservation data, that there are approximately 60,000 people who have booked a flight to Okinawa during the long holidays.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the state of emergency for Tokyo and six prefectures on April 7 and later extended it to all prefectures, requesting the public to refrain from going out for nonessential purposes, including, of course, leisure travel.

Tamaki is particularly concerned about the burden that visitors pose for local health care systems.

“Medical systems in the prefecture, including those on remote islands, are also facing an emergency situation," he said. "Your visit should wait until we are ready to accept visitors, please.”

According to Japan Airlines, about 27,000 people had booked a flight connecting Okinawa Prefecture and other parts of the country during the period from April 29 to May 6, as of April 23. The number is 18 percent of last year’s figure.

About 23,000 people had reserved a flight to Okinawa operated by All Nippon Airways Co. for the same period, which is 10 percent of last year.

The numbers are low for the airlines. Still, they are 5 to 8 points higher for JAL and 1 to 3 points for ANA, compared to other routes connecting various locales to Hokkaido or Kyushu.

“We can’t tell if all the reservations are for leisure travel, but Okinawa is still somewhat in demand,” an ANA representative said.

At the same time, many people have canceled their reservations to Okinawa due to the pandemic, taking advantage of the offer from airline companies for full refunds without a penalty.

“It is hard to tell how many people will actually stick with their plan and fly,” a JAL representative said.