Norwegian Cruise Line can require Florida passengers to show proof of Covid vaccination, federal judge rules

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Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn
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Norwegian Cruise Line said Sunday that a federal judge ruled to temporarily halt enforcement of a Florida law prohibiting businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams granted the preliminary injunction, allowing Norwegian to require vaccine documentation from customers on its Aug. 15 cruise while the case heads to trial. That date will be the company’s first trip from the state since the pandemic halted the cruise industry.

Infection levels in Florida have risen 51% in the last seven days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The state reported 134,506 new Covid cases from July 30 to Aug. 5, more than any other 7-day period tracked by JHU, and new case positivity is at 18.9%.

“It’s scary what’s happening in Florida,” Derek Shaffer, an attorney for Norwegian Cruise Line, said during a court hearing Friday. “All of Florida is a hot spot … All we’re doing is trying to protect our staff and passengers.”

Norwegian CEO Frank Del Rio said the company is trying to ensure the safety of passengers and crew.

“The whole industry wants to do this and the whole industry, for the most part, is demanding vaccinated passengers and [is] allowed to do so, except in the cruise capital of the world, which is a little ironic. But we’ll see what happens over the next few days,” Del Rio said at a press conference Friday.

Florida attorney Pete Patterson said the law protects customer’s civil liberties and prevents businesses from discriminating against the unvaccinated.

“You can’t discriminate against customers on the basis of their refusal to give you information,” Patterson said.

If the cruise had not received the injunction and continued to request proof of vaccination, it could have been subject to prosecution and fines of up to $5,000 per passenger under the Florida law.

In his argument, Shaffer said “no cruise line in Norwegian’s position can afford to withstand” a fine of that amount. Shaffer claimed the Florida legislature wants to “score political points” in the vaccination debate.

If the law stays in place, the cruise operator could be forced to cancel upcoming cruises or “sail in ways that are worse for our passengers and crew,” Shaffer said.

Norwegian Cruise Line filed suit against the Florida surgeon general in July challenging the law.

Norwegian’s attorney said the company waited to file the suit until it saw a federal appeals court ruling in another case filed by Florida against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The court sided with Florida, which had claimed the CDC’s regulations for cruise ships were too onerous and were costing it millions of dollars in foregone tax revenue.

The cruise operator plans to require all guests and crew on its voyages to be fully vaccinated and will require them to take Covid-19 tests prior to embarkation.

“The Company has been unable to reach a mutually agreeable solution with the State of Florida that would allow it to require documentation confirming guests’ vaccination status prior to boarding cruises from Florida,” Norwegian Cruise Line said in a release on Friday.

On Friday, Norwegian said its second-quarter loss grew to $717.8 million, or $1.94 per share, on revenue of $4.37 million. The company said it expects it will continue to post losses until the cruise line is able to resume regular voyages.

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