Coronavirus

Norwegian Cruise Line can require proof of COVID-19 vaccination in Florida, federal judge rules

FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 file photo, frozen vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are taken out to thaw, at the MontLegia CHC hospital in Liege, Belgium. The U.S. will buy 500 million more doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to share through the COVAX alliance for donation to 92 lower income countries and the African Union over the next year, a person familiar with the matter said Wednesday. President Joe Biden was set to make the announcement Thursday in a speech before the start of Group of Seven summit. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

(CNN) — Norwegian Cruise Line can require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for passengers and crew members, a federal judge ruled Sunday, after the cruise line operator had challenged Florida’s ban on vaccine passports.

US District Judge Kathleen Williams granted Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ request for a preliminary injunction to Florida’s law that prohibits companies from requiring customers and employees to provide documentation of COVID-19 vaccination status.

The complaint, filed last month in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, named Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees in his capacity as “the responsible state official.”

In April, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning the use of COVID-19 passports in the state. The order prohibited any government entity from issuing vaccine passports, and blocks businesses from requiring any such documentation. State lawmakers passed legislation codifying the order and it was signed into law on May 3.

“In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision,” DeSantis said at the time.

Representatives for DeSantis and the Florida surgeon general did not immediately respond to CNN requests for comment.

The lawsuit sets up a key showdown between state officials and business owners over the power of companies to mandate customers receive vaccines.

The travel operator said it plans to resume cruises on Aug. 15, with the Norwegian Gem departing from Miami — its first from Florida since the pandemic disrupted operations more than a year ago.

Frank Del Rio, Norwegian Cruise Line’s president and chief executive officer, praised the judge’s ruling in a statement Sunday.

“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,” he said.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. operates three cruise lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

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