Category: Travel

My experience traveling to and from Canada

This week it was my turn to travel – my first trip off Maui since July 2019. I flew to Canada to visit family and briefly experience fall weather (rain and cooler weather)! At this time to enter the US you need to show proof of a negative pre-travel test regardless of vaccination status. This will be changing come November (see below).

DISCLAIMER: this worked at my time of travel (September 2021). THINGS CHANGE REGULARLY so please double check the official government websites so there are no bad surprises.

Travel to Canada

Canada
Waiting at OGG for my Westjet flight to take off

I booked my pre-travel test to enter into Canada. There are a number of options on Maui, but the cheapest (and for me easiest) option was at the Clinical Labs of Hawaii at Kihei Wailea Medical Center (in the Safeway shopping center). I made my appointment in advance. You have to specify the test is for international travel (not the free community test). The cost of my travel test was $120US. I arrived at the lab, paid the fee and filled out a form. They took my nasal swab and I had an email announcing that my results were ready in under 24 hours. I set up an account to access my results, downloaded them to my phone and printed them as a backup.

The next step was to download the ArriveCan app. It won’t let you enter your info more than 72 hours prior to your flight. I entered all my travel info – flight and destination info, test result status (no upload required), stated my quarantine plan (should I test positive while in Canada). I uploaded a copy of my vaccine card. It was pretty straightforward. When you finish, the app sends you a receipt with a confirmation number.

Canada
first glimpses of Canada – after 26 months away

I wasn’t able to complete my online check with Westjet. At the counter they checked that I had an ArriveCan confirmation number and also verified my negative test results.

On arrival in Vancouver, the customs agent verified that I had the ArriveCan confirmation and test results.

Travel to Hawaii

To travel to Hawaii I set up an account with Safe Travels Hawaii. There is no app. Once set up, I registered my trip. Please see the official State of Hawaii Covid Travel website for very specific information.

Since I was entering the United States, I had to complete a pre-travel test 72 hours prior to my flight to Hawaii, despite being vaccinated. There are very specific approved ‘trusted testing and travel partner’ labs and at this time they are located only in BC, Alberta and Ontario. Hopefully that will be expanded soon. In BC Westjet partners with Lifelabs. I went onto their site, pre-purchased my test ($200Cdn+tax), then requested an appointment online. Within an hour Lifelabs contacted me to schedule the appointment. I had to bring my lab slip and passport to the lab, they took the swab. I received my results in just under 24 hours. Please check very closely that you get the specific Hawaii approved Covid test from the specific trusted travel and testing partner. If you take the wrong test, your trip will be very complicated (10 day quarantine anyone?).

Then I logged into my Safe Travels account. I clicked the ‘request testing exemption’. Unfortunately I uploaded the wrong form first, then the correct form (with the Hawaii State seal), and received an ‘identity mismatch’ error. I called the Safe Travels helpdesk person (hours are 10AM – 10PM Hawaii time). They had me email my test results and other info and within an hour I had an email that it was corrected on their end. Phew.

24 hours prior to my trip I logged in and completed the health questionnaire. The website then emailed me a QR code. I have both the code and my negative test results printed. Just in case.

What I experienced at the airport

The check-in line at YVR was short but took forever. Westjet agents looked specifically for the QR code and double-checked the test results sheet. A number of travelers didn’t have their QR code. The Westjet gate agent admitted she had not flown to Hawaii and gone through the process herself. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the Safe Travels program. You can phone Safe Travels – they are very helpful.

At the gate we had to show our QR code, test results and passport again. Then on arrival, we were routed to a screening location (at another gate), showed our QR code and passport again. The QR code was checked, we were then directed to take a photo of our ID with a laminated confirmation sheet. I then had to show that photo to another person before exiting the terminal.

All in all, if you have read up on what to do AND if you have followed the official government website instructions correctly, it’s pretty straightforward. More complicated than pre-Covid, but doable.

November 2021 changes

Enjoying fall foliage in BC

Last week the US government announced changes to the current travel policies. Currently Canadians need to pre-travel test to enter the US by air. Land borders are still closed to non-US resident travel. Many international travelers are currently not allowed to enter the US, such as travelers from England and the European Union.

In ‘early November’ the US will be changing its policy, opening up to more international travelers. The US will be requiring all foreign travelers (including Canadians from what we can tell) to show proof of full Covid vaccination in addition to a pre-travel test.

The US CDC (Center for Disease Control) will have the final word on which vaccines will be accepted.

“The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated with any FDA-authorized or approved vaccines and any vaccines that (the World Health Organization) has authorized,” said spokesperson Kristen Nordlund. That list could change pending additions by either agency, she said.

Reuters

Canada has a high vaccination rate, so for many the new rule in itself will not be a problem. However, per CBC News it is currently unclear if the US will be allowing people with mixed vaccinations to enter the US.

We are waiting for the US to announce the exact new rules. If you are planning a trip to the US and have received mixed vaccines, please keep an eye on this for further developments.

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How to make your Hawaii arrival easier

You are planning your trip. You’ve got the flights, the condo, hopefully the rental car all lined up. But how can you make your Hawaii arrival easier?

I’ve told you about the official Hawaii Covid Travel website of course.

  1. Sign up for your Safe Travel account. Schedule your pre-travel test, or if you received your vaccination within the United States, you will qualify for a vaccination exemption. See the website for so much more information and details. On a side note, if you have been vaccinated in the US but are re-entering the US from another country (such as Canada), you will need to pre-travel test regardless of vaccination status. This is a US government requirement, not a Hawaii requirement. Here is a video detailing the steps required.

2. Certain airlines offer a pre-clear option to avoid the check at Kahului airport. Sometimes the line at OGG is pretty quick. However, at times there are multiple flights disembarking at the same time, causing a backlog.

Sig’s ‘fancy’ Alaskan pre-clear bracelet

What is pre-clear?

Airlines offering pre-clear will check your documents and Safe Travels QR code at the gate and give you a wrist-band. I’ve heard that the pre-clear is not always at your flight’s gate, but can be elsewhere in the airport. I recommend arriving at your gate in plenty of time to find the pre-clear desk. Sig and our oldest son recently returned to Maui from Seattle and say it was a breeze. Airlines currently offering a pre-clear wrist-band program are: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, South West, United Airlines. If you can, get it – it will make your Hawaii arrival so much easier.

Wrong tests or missing tests

Last weekend I chatted with one of the soccer moms. She works as a waitress at one of the airport restaurants/bars. I asked her, how often are people arriving without their Safe Travels QR code or the wrong test? You would think airlines, hotels, condo owners would be advising their guests of the rules (I certainly do). She says she works five shifts a week. Every shift she sees at least one person crying in the restaurant, waiting for a return flight.

If you arrive on Maui without your valid Safe Travels QR code, you will be flagged as having to quarantine. You will either need to book a room in one of the approved quarantine locations (NOT a vacation rental) and agree to stay within your room for 10 days, line up food and services you may need to be delivered. Or, you are asked to leave. You book a return flight to the mainland. At that point you can either get an approved test and return, or call the vacation over. What a mess.

Make your Hawaii arrival easy. Please make sure you take the correct test. Some approved labs have done unapproved tests. Double check!

Rental cars

In March 2020 tourists started leaving the islands as we became aware of Covid. At the time some 18000+ rental cars needed a place to go. They were temporarily parked in the fields surrounding the airport. Once Hawaii began reopening with the pre-travel test option to avoid quarantine in October 2020, those rental car graveyards began to empty. In the mean time we’ve had severe car shortages. Some cars were shipped back to the mainland or sold, and tourism numbers came back significantly stronger than anticipated.

Imagine my surprise as I was driving the back way (past the heliport) to Costco’s gas station and came across rental cars in fields. This was just a few days ago. Yes, tourism numbers have slowed again. I assume these are extra cars that don’t fit in the airport rental car facility. Talk about a flashback.

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Delta variant on Maui

The news is full of Covid updates, warnings about the Delta variant. Here is a short snapshot of where Maui is currently at.

Yes, Hawaii is also experiencing a surge in Covid cases thanks to Delta. We’ve had a real surge, going from averaging 5-10 cases/day, to the new average of 70+/day. Our island’s population is 145,000. Maui’s mayor Victorino announced this morning that Maui’s hospital – Maui Memorial – is now at capacity. The hospital has 219 beds and has the ability to add some as needed, however, they are short-staffed. Starting Monday 550 relief health care workers are coming to 19 Hawaii hospitals, Maui Memorial is expecting 40 of those relief nurses. My nursing friend says she and her fellow hospital staff are thrilled. They are pretty burned out. The relief nurses are scheduled to stay 60 days.

Maui’s mayor issued a call this morning to ‘not engage in dangerous activity’. Basically, try to avoid behavior that may result in needing hospital care. Well that’s great.

In good news, Lt Governor Green announced 69.5% of Hawaii residents (82.3% of those eligible, 12+) are partially vaxxed, 61.5% fully vaxxed as of today.

Restaurants

Restaurants are currently at half capacity. The best way to get a reservation (per my son who is part-time hosting at a Kihei restaurant) is to walk in and make a reservation for a few days out. Some restaurants allow for online reservations. Late June I blogged about some of my favorites – check it out!

Rental cars

Beat of Hawaii has announced that rental car prices have dropped. Unsure why – but if you have a rental car reservation, check back to see if prices have dropped. If you haven’t paid, rebook at the lower rate and don’t forget to cancel your other booking. Turo car rentals continue to be strong here on Maui. My concern is, what happens if your Turo car rental is an accident prior to your arrival – I assume your reservation is cancelled, and then you are back to square one.

The Canadians are back!

The Canadians are back! In fact, our sister and brother-in-law visited from BC end of July – it was so nice to be able to see family again! Paul went scuba diving and I included his whale shark video in a blog post! Sig and our eldest are currently in Canada visiting family. If you are Canadian and have a trip scheduled for Hawaii, be sure to get those pre-travel Covid tests scheduled while they are still available. And do remember, you also have to pre-travel test to return to Canada.

Covid requirements for Hawaii

Yes, Hawaii still has the mandatory 10 day quarantine in place for travel to Hawaii. If you are traveling from within the US, you can currently get an exemption by showing proof of vaccination (plus 2 weeks) or do a pre-travel Covid test. Note, all this is up to change especially as Delta continues to surge around the world. Please CHECK THE OFFICIAL HAWAII COVID TRAVEL SITE repeatedly pre-travel to make sure you have all the current information.

Masks are mandatory when indoors and on shared transportation.

enjoying the afternoon at Kamaole 1 beach

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Vaccination Exemption

At long last, the State of Hawaii is putting in place a vaccination exemption to the mandatory 10 day quarantine. Starting July 8th travelers fully vaccinated (plus two weeks) will be able to bypass the mandatory 10 day quarantine. You will still need to set up your Safe Travels account and upload your vaccination card. However, if fully vaccinated, you can skip getting the onerous pre-travel test.

Please note, per the official website you must have received your vaccination in the United States (no exemption for those vaccinated internationally).

Should you or some in your travel group not be vaccinated, you can still pre-travel test to avoid the mandatory quarantine. Please make sure to follow the official instructions closely. Do not board your final flight without your test results in hand.

For much more information and the most accurate details, please see the official Hawaii Covid Travel website.

vaccination exemption
Gorgeous sunset at Ulua Beach. This vaccination exemption definitely simplifies Maui travel.

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Further loosening of Covid rules

Remember the good old days, when I blogged about things to do on Maui? I really look forward to no longer writing about Covid updates, but they are important for right now, so here is the latest. The State is loosening the Covid rules. A little.

To preface, all those who have NOT been vaccinated IN the State Hawaii still need to do their pre-travel Covid test. Once 60% of Hawaii’s residents have been fully vaccinated, the State will announce a lifting of the pre-travel testing for US mainland and Alaska residents. So hang tight. And schedule your pre-travel tests, in accordance with the official State website.

This week (June 15) you no longer need to take Covid tests when traveling between islands, regardless of your vaccination status. So for instance, if you are spending some time here on Maui and then hopping over to one of the other Hawaiian islands, you no longer need to pre-travel test before that island hopper flight. Yay. But, you do still need to pre-travel test to come to Hawaii. For now.

A little complication

To complicate things a little, as of June 15 those who are fully vaccinated (vaccines administered and logged) in the State of Hawaii do NOT need to pre-travel test when arriving on the mainland. This mainly applies to Hawaii residents. They do still have to upload their vaccination card into the Safe Travels app. I’m sure this will add a wrinkle or two at the airport.

Are you confused yet? Sorry about that. But please check out the State’s official website re the current rules and loosening restrictions.

Looking for more Maui information?

Have you checked out Tripadvisor’s Maui forum? This is a great place to get specific information from recent travelers and locals.

The other day I was checking our Kamaole Sands 2-206 condo around sunset. Look at the palm tree shadow being reflected on the building by the sunset lighting. I thought this was pretty cool.
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New post-arrival testing at the airport

This week Maui’s mayor announced new post-arrival testing at the airport. What is this all about?

As you (should) know by now, when flying to Hawaii there is a mandatory 10 day quarantine for all arrivals. You can bypass this quarantine by taking a pre-arrival test up to 72 hours prior to the last leg of your flight into Hawaii. For much more information on all this, please check the official State of Hawaii Covid Travel website.

On Maui our Covid numbers have been a bit elevated since around Christmas. The Health authorities and mayor say it’s community-based. However, with the dramatic increase in tourism (6000-8000 arrivals/day the past few weeks), community pushback and blaming both arriving visitors and returning residents for the higher numbers and new variants has grown.

Maui’s mayor asked the Governor and received the State’s official ok to introduce a second mandatory post-arrival test. Details are not really available yet as they are still figuring things out. Here’s what we know so far

  • Rapid-test
  • Mandatory on arrival at the airport for trans-Pacific flights
  • Free to the traveler (paid for by the County of Maui)
  • If traveler tests positive, they will need to quarantine

What is unclear at this time:

  • What about false-positives? Will it be followed up by another test (while you and your fellow travelers quarantine)?
  • Airport logistics when you have multiple large trans-Pacific flights arriving at the same time.

This week Maui County opened vaccinations to all residents 16+. It is my hope that with increased vaccinations our numbers will go down and that this post-arrival test will be short-lived.

No vaccination passports at this time

As of now there is no exemption to all the testing for those who have been vaccinated. The Lt Governor heads up the Covid task force for Hawaii and would like to see a vaccination passport implemented soon. However, the Governor recently announced that his priority is to vaccinate residents and not to expect a vaccination passport until later in the summer.

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What is the current re-entry process to Canada

Remember when flying between Canada and the US was as easy as ensuring you had a valid passport, ticket and passing security and customs? I checked – our family’s passports are all valid. And yet, travel to Canada seems so remote these days.

My Canadian return guests and Facebook page followers have been lamenting their cold Canadian winter. Some have optimistically booked their winter 2022 Maui stays (yes, those calendars are filling up).

The Canada-US border remains closed to non-essential travel at this time. Apparently there are exceptions, and of course, Canadians may return to their country. There are just ‘a few’ steps to take in order to do so.

I have a few friends who have gone through this process in the past months. One repeat guest in BC told me of unmarked government vehicles parking outside her house and phone calls, checking that she was quarantining (this was last fall). My mom (also in BC) recently told me of an unmarked vehicle checking in on one of her neighbors, the official in the car speaking with the quarantin-er on the phone through the door.

Direct Westjet flight YYC-OGG arriving on April 3, 2021

Several Alberta friends who own second homes here on Maui recently flew back home. Here is a short summary of one of their experiences:

  1. They had to organize and take a pre-travel test while here on Maui. The requirements are quite specific (so do check the Canadian government website for specifics). I believe Minit Medical, Doctors on Call and Clinical Labs of Hawaii all offer tests. The Minit Medical test ran at $175US/person. You need these results on time, without negative results, you will need to reschedule your trip.
  2. Then for the return flight. Apparently WestJet has one direct flight per week between Calgary and Maui (OGG). I was surprised there are direct flights into Canada. My friend’s return flight to Calgary was a third full and according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority (check here for very cool searchable arrival statistics), there are Canadians are still arriving on Maui on those inbound flights. As I check right now, it doesn’t look like there are any direct flights to Vancouver, and my quick spot check is not showing direct AirCanada options either.
  3. On arrival in Calgary my friends took a complimentary Covid test at the airport and then proceeded to their pre-booked hotel room for their 3 night stay. The cost at the Acclaim hotel for two persons was $1300 for 3 nights which included all meals. Curious me checked the Acclaim Hotel at the Calgary airport. The hotel looks nice, my friend had a standard size hotel room with a king-size bed, chaise, desk and chair. Imagine spending up to three days in a hotel room?
  4. Fortunately for my friend, they received their test results within 24 hours. They called the front desk, were escorted out of the hotel and headed home to ride out the remaining 13 days of quarantine at home. There was no discount for the unused nights/meals at the hotel.
  5. On Day 10 of their quarantine they will take another Covid test. If that test is also negative, then after Day 14 they are free to resume their ‘normal’ routine.

For much more information and current details on the Canadian out-of-country arrival program, please check the official Canadian government website.

As for our family – we will continue to wait to visit our family and friends until the Canadian border becomes a bit more porous.

How many Canadians come to Maui?

When we first started our vacation rental business, about half our guests were Canadian. Over the past years this number has decreased to perhaps one fifth, but Maui remains a popular warm-weather destination for Western Canadians. Per the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Canada Fact Sheet, in 2019 Maui saw 277,000 Canadian visitors, on average 35% first-timers (65% repeat), spending an average 12 days on island.

Sugar Beach 104
Pull up a chaise lounge and take in the view
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Where are all the rental cars?

Remember a year ago when all the tourists left? Beside empty condos and empty hotels, empty restaurants, stores and streets and insane unemployment, Maui had another problem. Empty rental cars. Empty rentals cars all needing to be stored and no place to put them. Most of those rental cars ended up being stored in fields surrounding the airport. For months we had cars sitting in fields, and it got to the point where they closed and guarded the road by the heliport overnight to prevent theft, gas syphoning and car part picking. From time to time you would notice windshield wipers raised on some cars – I am told this was to indicate that a car had been checked.

a not-so-temporary rental car parking lot at the intersection of Airport Road and Hana Hwy in Kahului (March 2020)

Eventually the rental car fields emptied. Rumor has it many were loaded onto ships and sent back to the mainland to be sold or integrated into the mainland rental car fleet.

In mid-October tourism slowly restarted with the pre-travel test option. There were plenty of rental cars available for the demand. Here on Maui we are used to car lots running out of cars around Christmas and the early January PGA golf tournament, but we didn’t hear anything about shortages.

Until now! It’s been spring break this month and Maui has been BUSY. Arrival numbers have skyrocketed and guess what – there are no rental cars to be had. HawaiiNewNow reports today that on Oahu you are hard pressed to find a car, and those businesses with cars available are reaping the benefit of supply and demand. $1000/day for a car anyone? Yikes.

What to do?

Well, spring break should be coming to a close with Easter this weekend, so hopefully things will slow down a bit again. And hopefully rental companies will start shipping inventory back to the islands. In the mean time, taxis and ride-shares will have to fill the gaps. If you can get one.

Do you love statistics?

I track the Hawaii Tourism Authority daily arrivals logs, looking at how many people are arriving on Maui on a daily basis.

But today I stumbled across this arrivals compilation on the Hawaii Covid website, showing where people are coming from, airlines etc. You can look at all of Hawaii, or break it down by County, play with dates etc. Fascinating. For example, one of my neighbors flew back to Calgary (Canada) by direct flight on Sunday (March 28) where she is currently languishing in quarantine (another story). So I knew there must have been a flight coming from Canada – I found it on March 27th – a Westjet flight with 28 passengers (yes – 28!!). Apparently they fly once week. Who knew?

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What’s new with Maui travel?

NEW: Mandatory sign-up for AlohaSafe Alert App (or similar) to avoid the 10 day quarantine per County of Maui. This is in addition to the SafeTravels program (pre-travel Covid testing etc etc). Please, if you are traveling to Maui at this time, make sure you read the official websites carefully to avoid problems.

Tourism on Maui has settled into its groove, in a manner of speaking. After the Christmas ‘rush’ of about 2200 arrivals/day, we seem to have settled in at about 1700 visitor arrivals/day. This down from January 2020’s 7000/day. After 9 months of minimal traffic, it seems like a lot, but really it isn’t.

You’ll notice Lihue (Kauai) is seeing minimal travel. In December they opted out of the ‘pre-travel testing to avoid quarantine’ program. Predictably their economy is suffering badly.

Who is traveling to Maui?

Generally we are seeing a younger than usual crowd for this time of year. Typically winter is snowbird season, time for baby boomers to come thaw out from winter back home. Yes, there are always younger people also, but they typically stay a week or two and then have to get back to work. This year many snowbirds are taking a pass on travel – I assume pending receipt of the Covid vaccine or the pandemic ending. Completely understandable. Thankfully the younger crowd is coming, many staying longer and working remotely from the condos. We are thankful.

Anecdotally I am told there are a lot of condo owners on island. Perhaps they haven’t been able to travel this past year, haven’t had much luck renting their condos out. Good for them! In normal years high season rents help pay the bills during low season, so often owners will limit their high season stays. This year the world is upside down.

Some vacation rental stats for you!

I just received my monthly update email from the Hawaii Tourism Authority on vacation rentals for December 2020. According to their data, condo occupancy for the month of December was at 45% for Kihei/Wailea vs last year’s 83%, with average rates down 29%. over last year’s. We were lucky, our condos were all full for December. For January our Kamaole Sands condo sat empty. Next month all condos will be full again, with exception of our Sugar Beach condo – the remodel should hopefully be completed in the next two weeks.

In contrast, Kihei/Wailea’s hotel occupancy for December 2020 is at 26% (down from 85% for December 2019). Interesting hotel nightly rates are only down 7%. See here for the Hawaii Tourism Association’s report. We’ve definitely seen near empty resorts on our Wailea beach walks. A few weeks ago we overheard a Wailea Beach Resort employee telling someone their occupancy was at 18% that day. How do these resorts stay open at those numbers?

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The Canadians are back!

Late March 2020 the border between Canada and the US was closed and Canadian airlines Westjet and AirCanada cancelled all Hawaii flights. Covid was upon us all and noone knew what to expect next.

The airlines have been teasing customers with flights this fall, only to cancel them due to the persistent 14 day mandatory quarantine upon arrival to Hawaii. Mid-October the State started the pre-travel test exemption, but the approved tests were only available on the US mainland. As of December 17 there are now Canadian testing options and we are thrilled! Hawaii is after all the closest warm-weather destination for Canadians on the West Coast (though still a 6+ hour flight away).

For much more pre-travel test information please FIRST check the official State of Hawaii Covid Travel website (note, things change regularly, so check back often). Then (if you are traveling from Canada), check with your airline for further testing information. At this time AirCanada and Westjet both run the official pre-travel test program for Canadians traveling to Hawaii.

We were driving to Kahului yesterday afternoon as I saw a Westjet flight come in. I double checked my flight tracker app (I use the free Flightradar24 app on my phone) and sure enough – it was coming from Vancouver. I then googled more information, turns out it was the FIRST Westjet flight arriving on Maui since late March! Welcome back!

About half hour later I saw another plane arriving – Flightradar showed me it was Air Canada – their very first Covid-era direct flight from Calgary.

Mandatory Quarantine on return to Canada

As Canadians will know, there is currently a mandatory 14 day quarantine for all arrivals to Canada. However, Alberta currently has a pilot-program to avoid the mandatory quarantine. I am hoping BC will follow suit. Sure would be nice to go see our Canadian family again! It’s been a long year….

State of Hawaii Mandatory Quarantine Change

As I mentioned, things change from time to time. This week the State of Hawaii officially shortened the mandatory quarantine from 14 to ten days. This applies to all arrivals who do not have a Hawaii State approved negative Covid test in hand on arrival in Hawaii. Please check their website for much more information.

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