Update (1142ET): Florida will take a stand against a federal judge's decision to side with the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. lawsuit challenging the state's vaccine passports ban, according to a spokeswoman for the Florida governor's office.
"We disagree with the judge's legal reasoning and will be appealing to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals," the spokeswoman 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."
Ahead of Norwegian's Sept. 5 sail from Miami, the cruise line requires passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated.
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On Sunday, a federal judge sided with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.'s lawsuit challenging Florida's vaccine passports ban, per a statement from the company.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams granted Norwegian's request for a preliminary injunction in a 60-page ruling that blocks Florida's ban for businesses to require customers or guests proof of vaccination before entry.
"Amid myriad, rapidly-changing requirements regarding quarantining and testing, there is one constant that facilitates cruise line customers' access to advertised ports of call: documentary proof of vaccination will expedite passengers' entry into virtually every single country and port where Plaintiffs intend to sail," Williams wrote.
She said vaccine passports would allow the cruise line to "operate in the safest way possible with 100% vaccination of all guests and crew when sailing from Florida ports," adding the decision was reached because Florida had failed to "provide a valid evidentiary, factual, or legal predicate" for the ban.
Williams also noted, "scientific research shows that cruise lines are hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission," and the cruise operator "has demonstrated that public health will be jeopardized if it is required to suspend its vaccination requirement."
The ruling comes less than a week Norwegian Gem vessel will depart Miami - the first vessel in its fleet to sail from the port area since the pandemic halted the cruise industry last year.
Williams' decision is a blow for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has consistently fought against government-mandated masks, health passports, and other vaccine restrictions.
Norwegian said it looked forward to sailing on Aug. 15. "This order will now allow the Company to operate in the safest way possible with 100% vaccination of all guests and crew when sailing from Florida ports," it said.