The state of Florida has threatened to fine cruise lines that require their passengers to prove their Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination status. The threat from the Sunshine State followed Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signing a law that prohibits businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccine passports. However, this has put cruise lines at odds with federal health guidance that mandates passengers’ vaccination status be verified.

According to reports, Florida could fine cruise lines $5,000 per customer in case they flout the vaccine passport law – which will come into effect on July 1. DeSantis earlier justified his decision to sign the bill on May 3. He said last month: “In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected. [No] business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision.”

On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that cruise lines would be allowed to sail again in July after more than a year. However, they would only be permitted to do so if 98 percent of crew members and 95 percent of passengers are vaccinated against COVID-19. With vaccine passports the only way to accurately verify vaccination status, cruise lines risk violating Florida law in the process.

Christina Pushaw, press secretary for the Florida governor, said in an email to Travel Weekly that the CDC’s guidance for cruise lines was “coercive.” She continued that the public health agency “has no legal authority to set any sort of requirement to cruise.”

Pushaw elaborated: “[The] CDC went on record admitting that the federal government chose not to make a legal requirement for vaccine passports. Now, [it provides] coercive guidance in the absence of any federal law or congressional authorization. In short, the CDC is pushing cruise ships to violate Florida law in order to comply with … ‘guidance’ that is not legally binding.”

DeSantis himself also doubled down on his prohibition of vaccine passports. He told reporters on May 28: “We are going to enforce Florida law. We have laws that protect the people and the privacy of our citizens, and we are going to enforce it.”

Cruise line executives have voiced out their opposition to DeSantis’s anti-vaccine passport laws

During his May 28 engagement with reporters, the Florida governor reiterated that cruise lines would not be exempted from the vaccine passport ban. He added that he expects the Sunshine State to win its lawsuit challenging federal restrictions that have kept cruise ships docked throughout the pandemic.

Florida’s threat to fine cruise lines came a day after the CDC permitted Celebrity Cruises to resume operations. Its Celebrity Edge cruise ship received permission to depart from Fort Lauderdale on June 26 to undertake a seven-day Caribbean cruise. The company managed to resume without a test sailing because of its commitment to ensure 95 percent of passengers and crew will be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Other cruise line companies have followed suit in anticipation of the CDC permitting them to sail again. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) said all passengers planning to sail with it must be vaccinated against COVID-19. Royal Caribbean International (RCI) meanwhile said that anyone eligible for vaccination must get their doses before cruising. It continued that those ineligible for vaccination – such as children below 12 years old – must show a negative COVID-19 test.

RCI replied to a question about Florida’s ban on vaccine passports: “We continue to work with local and state governments to facilitate a return to service by July, with fully vaccinated crew and guests who are eligible for vaccinations.” 

But some executives have expressed concern over DeSantis’s move to prohibit vaccine passports. NCLH President and CEO Frank Del Rio joined the list of skeptical cruise line executives. Early this month, he said that the new Florida law “is an issue” and warned that the company might have to move out of the state.

This failed to intimidate the governor, who subsequently brushed off Del Rio’s comments. DeSantis said another cruise line would take NCLH’s spot if did not want to sail from the Sunshine State. “We have a whole bunch of people who are itching to do business in the state of Florida,” he continued.

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