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A federal judge granted Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd’s (NYSE: Chart NCLH - $12.52 0.05 (0.398%) ) request to temporarily block a Florida law that prohibits companies from requiring customers and employees to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination status.
In a nearly 60-page preliminary ruling issued Sunday night, US District Judge Kathleen Williams in the Southern District of Florida said that the state has failed to “provide a valid, evidentiary, factual or legal predicate” for banning vaccination proof.
She also noted "scientific research shows that cruise lines are hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission" and that Norwegian "has demonstrated that public health will be jeopardized if it is required to suspend its vaccination requirement."
The ruling stems from Norwegian’s lawsuit filed in June challenging the state’s ban on so-called “vaccine passports,” which was signed into law in May by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis, who governs a state that is now the epicenter of the country's coronavirus battle, has repeatedly insisted that getting vaccinated should be “a personal choice.”
Under the ban, which went into effect July 1, Norwegian faced a fine of up to $5,000 for every violation.
Miami-headquartered Norwegian has contended the law was a violation of the First Amendment because it blocked communication between customers and businesses, in addition to jeopardizing the health of passengers and employees.
In a statement Sunday, Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian, said, "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 added, “The public health environment continues to evolve around the globe and our robust science-backed health and safety protocols, with vaccines at its cornerstone, [enable] us to provide what we believe is the safest vacation experience for people who long to get back to their everyday lives and explore the world once again.”
Norwegian’s Gem cruise ship is due to depart Miami on Aug. 15 — marking the company’s first trip from Florida since the COVID-19 pandemic halted cruise industry operations last year.
DeSantis, meanwhile, plans to appeal the judge’s order. “We disagree with the judge's legal reasoning and will be appealing to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals," the statement from the governor's office said.
"A prohibition on vaccine passports does not even implicate, let alone violate, anyone's speech rights, and it furthers the substantial, local interest of preventing discrimination among customers based on private health information."
Sunday’s ruling comes as COVID-19 cases in Florida climb to an all-time high and hospitals are filling up, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant and an adult population that is only 49.6% vaccinated.
The Florida Hospital Association reported Monday that 13,614 patients were hospitalized with the virus, another grim record.
According to NPR, the US averages 454 daily fatal cases, with about one-fifth of those deadly cases from the Sunshine State.
DeSantis has blamed the spike on “a seasonal pattern,” “media hysteria” and immigrants crossing "wide open borders." He has also issued an executive order prohibiting mask mandates in schools.
Source: Equities News