Judge temporarily allows cruise line to require proof of vaccination in Florida

By Jesús Jiménez

A federal judge has granted Norwegian Cruise Line’s request for a preliminary injunction, temporarily allowing the company to require proof of vaccination from passengers despite a Florida law that bans businesses from doing so.

The injunction, in a lawsuit that the company filed last month against Dr. Scott Rivkees, Florida’s surgeon general and the head of the Florida Department of Health, is the latest development in a continuing battle for the cruise line industry.

The preliminary injunction is likely to draw backlash from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who in May signed a state law that set fines for businesses that force customers to provide proof of vaccination.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night. Norwegian’s next cruise ship to sail from Florida is set for Aug. 15, out of Miami.

In a statement Sunday, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said it was pleased with the judge’s ruling. Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, said the ruling would allow the cruise line to provide the “safest vacation experience for people who long to get back to their everyday lives and explore the world once again.”

“We want nothing more than to sail from Miami, the cruise capital of the world, and from the other fabulous Florida ports, and we welcome today’s ruling that allows us to sail with 100% fully vaccinated guests and crew, which we believe is the safest and most prudent way to resume cruise operations amid this global pandemic,” Del Rio said.

In the order, Judge Kathleen Williams of U.S. District Court listed several reasons for granting the request for a preliminary injunction. Among them, Williams cited the potential for the cruise line to suffer financially if Norwegian is forced to cancel trips or reroute around Florida. She also noted that “scientific research shows that cruise lines are hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission.”

Williams wrote that the “defendant fails to articulate or provide any evidence of harms that the state would suffer if an injunction was entered,” and added that Norwegian “has demonstrated that public health will be jeopardized if it is required to suspend its vaccination requirement.”

A preliminary injunction generally stays in effect until there is a final ruling in a lawsuit.

In a statement, Daniel S. Farkas, executive vice president and general counsel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said litigation was “a strategic tool of last resort.”

“Our company has fought to do what we believe is right and in the best interest of the welfare of our guests, crew and communities we visit in an effort to do our part as responsible corporate citizens to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, further spread of COVID-19 as we gradually relaunch our vessels,” Farkas said.

The judge’s order came as coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Florida. Over the past two weeks, cases in the state have increased by 84% and hospitalizations have risen by 105%, according to New York Times data.

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