Updated: August 9, 2021 11:41:06 am
A US federal judge issued a court ruling on Sunday allowing Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. to document passengers’ Covid-19 immunity status, putting on hold Florida’s ban on “vaccine passports”.
In a blow to Governor Ron DeSantis, 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.
“We are pleased that Judge (Kathleen) Williams saw the facts, the law and the science as we did and granted the Company’s motion for preliminary injunction allowing us to operate cruises from Florida with 100% vaccinated guests and crew,” the company’s executive vice president Daniel S Farkas said in the statement.
Norwegian has said Florida’s law would prevent the company from ensuring at least 95 per cent of passengers were vaccinated so it could comply with health regulations when it conducts its first post-pandemic voyage from Miami on Aug. 15.
DeSantis has become a national figure for opposing pandemic restrictions, even as the Republican governor’s state has become a hotbed of infections and hospitalizations have hit record levels. He 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.
Norwegian has said the law was not about protecting passengers but scoring political points. The ban took effect on July 1 and Norwegian faces a fine of up to $5,000 for each violation. 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.
In order to sail, Norwegian has attested to the CDC it would confirm that at least 95 per cent of passengers have been vaccinated.
Norwegian said the law violates 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 Norwegian 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 masking indoors.