Hawaiian paradise controlled by billionaire Larry Ellison is hit hard by COVID


Larry Ellison controls just about every part of Lanai, a Hawaiian island that for months was shielded from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

As Covid-19 swept across the U.S. mainland in the spring and summer, Lanai didn’t have a single case. Its 3,000 residents avoided mass layoffs while tourism plunged, protected by the billionaire who owns 98% of the island.

Now, the gorgeous paradise, about 2,500 miles southwest of Los Angeles, is confronting a tough reality.

Ellison’s two Four Seasons resorts, which employ nearly a quarter of the island’s residents, laid off or furloughed almost all workers in August. Some employees returned last month for a reopening to tourists -- which was then followed by a wave of virus infections. More than 100 people tested positive for Covid-19 in the last two weeks of October. Four have been helicoptered off because Lanai’s lone hospital isn’t equipped with a critical care unit.

“They’re going through what we went through in March and April,” said Michael Shea, chief medical officer of Maui Memorial Medical Center, who visited Lanai on Nov. 2 with two employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They can see it in the news, but actually experiencing it was a little different.”

The pandemic is roiling an area almost entirely reliant on Ellison, the world’s 12th-richest person and a lavish spender on luxury real estate. Over the years, the Oracle co-founder has amassed multiple Malibu homes, a Southern California golf course and a handful of historic mansions in Rhode Island, not to mention several superyachts. But his 2012 purchase of Lanai stands apart because it’s not just a private property or business, but home to thousands of people who have little say in many aspects of the island.

Ellison, 76, owns Lanai’s two hotels, a luxury wellness resort and is the main employer of almost all of the working residents. The 140-square-mile island, with only one school and no stoplights, is sustained by tourism to his swank properties. That means viral outbreaks both there and on the mainland risk longer-term economic pain for its inhabitants.

Representatives for Ellison at Oracle and Pulama Lanai, which oversees much of the island, didn’t respond to several emails and phone calls requesting comment. A spokesperson for the Four Seasons Lanai declined to comment.
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