A US judge has dealt a blow to Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis’ plan to ban vaccine passports on cruise ships.
In a preliminary ruling issued on 8th August, US District Judge, Kathleen Williams, in Miami said Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) would likely prevail on its argument that the vaccine passport ban, signed into law by DeSantis last May, jeopardises public health and is an unconstitutional infringement on NCLH’s rights.
The judge blocked DeSantis from enforcing the law against NCLH, allowing the cruise ship operator to proceed with a plan to resume operations out of Miami on 15th August.
Law violation could have triggered a fine of $5,000 per passenger, potentially adding up to millions of dollars per cruise.
The ruling comes as big business and some government entities are responding to the rapid spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus with vaccination requirements, prompting legal challenges from vaccine sceptics and civil libertarians, Reuters said.
“We are pleased that Judge Williams saw the facts, the law and the science as we did and granted the company’s motion for a preliminary injunction allowing us to operate cruises from Florida with 100% vaccinated guests and crew,” NCLH’s ‘ Executive Vice President, Daniel Farkas said in the statement.
NCLH claimed that Florida’s law would prevent it from ensuring at least 95% of passengers were vaccinated to enable it to comply with health regulations when it conducts its first post-pandemic voyage from Miami on 15th August.
DeSantis has argued that Florida law prevents discrimination and protects privacy by preventing businesses, schools or governments from demanding proof of immunity in return for service.
NCLH countered by saying that the law was not about protecting passengers but scoring political points.
Norwegian is ramping up its return to cruises, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shut down in March 2020 with its “No Sail” order.
To be allowed to sail, NCLH has had to attest to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it would confirm that at least 95% of passengers had been vaccinated.
NCLH further alleged that the law violated the company’s First Amendment right to interact with customers and does not prevent discrimination because the company would have to segregate and mask passengers who declined to prove they were vaccinated.
The state argued that the cruise ship operator could have opted, as rival cruise operators did, to seek CDC approval through a process of running simulated voyages and applying other COVID-19 protocols, such as the wearing of masks inside.
It has since been reported that DeSantis will appeal the decision.