(NEW YORK) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law earlier this month that prohibits businesses from requiring customers or employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. This presents a potential problem for major cruise lines that have relied on Florida ports and referred to the vaccines as “game changers” in their restart-operation plans.
Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio has said the new law could force the company, which plans to require all future guests to be fully vaccinated, to suspend Florida departures and move its ships.
“At the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders, and God forbid we can’t operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from, and we can operate from the Caribbean for a ship that otherwise would have gone to Florida,” Rio said last week during an earnings call.
Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Harry Sommer appeared on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday and sounded more optimistic that they could come to a compromise.
“At the end of the day, we have the same goal in mind to restart cruising safely for our guests in an excellent way with a fantastic product,” Sommer said on “GMA.” “And I think when people are aligned on the same goal they find a way to move forward.”
“You say your goals are aligned,” ABC’s Michael Strahan said, “but what does the compromise look like if the state doesn’t relent, are you prepared to keep ships out of Florida?”
“I don’t think it’s a question of relenting,” Sommer responded, “I think it’s a question of us coming together with a common cause and a common goal, moving forward, and I’m confident and optimistic that we’ll be able to do that.”
Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Norwegian are resuming North American cruises this summer with ships sailing out of the Caribbean. Since their voyages won’t involve departures or stops at any U.S. ports, they didn’t need approval from the CDC. They only had to obtain officials’ approvals at their planned destinations.
Since March 2020, the CDC has blocked cruise ships that carry more than 250 people from sailing in U.S. waters. The agency recently announced that it will allow cruise companies to bypass previously required simulated voyages if a ship attests that 98% of its crew and 95% of its passengers are fully vaccinated. The CDC hopes this could have ships back in U.S. waters with paying passengers as early as mid-July.
“We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity,” the agency said in a letter to cruise industry officials, which was obtained by ABC News, “and that the goal of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order’s phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities.”
Sommer said he can’t guarantee that there will never be a case of COVID-19 onboard, but that the “combination of testing protocols and 100% vaccination is going to provide the absolutely safest vacation on the planet,” adding, “that’s their goal.”
The CDC has yet to make a final decision on if masking will be required onboard the ship.
“We certainly hope not,” Sommer said about the potential mask requirement, “You know, we think in a world where 100% of the people on board are vaccinated, that masks aren’t being going to be required, but we’re going to be guided by the science.”
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