Florida threatens Celebrity Cruises with fines if it asks passengers for proof of COVID-19 vaccination
Call it a speed bump in the cruise industry's road to recovery — or maybe, a giant sinkhole.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis isn't backing down from his stance that cruise lines operating out of Florida ports can't require passengers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.
In an emailed response on Thursday to questions from TPG, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw suggested vaccine requirements for sailings that Celebrity Cruises announced Wednesday as part of a plan to restart cruising from Florida on June 26 are in violation of Florida law, and the line could face massive fines if it moves forward with the requirements.
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"Companies doing business in Florida, including Celebrity Cruises, should immediately cease to impose such discriminatory policies upon individuals," Pushaw told TPG. "Companies that violate this law would be subject to a fine of $5,000 each time they require a customer to present a 'vaccine passport' for service."
DeSantis and his team have used the term "vaccine passport" broadly in recent months to include any sort of proof of a vaccine, such as a vaccine card.
Celebrity is the first cruise line to announce a definitive restart to cruises out of Florida. The line on Wednesday said the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had approved its application to restart sailings to the Caribbean out of Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades on June 26 with a single ship, the 2,908-passenger Celebrity Edge.
The 2-year-old vessel is the first cruise ship from any line to win CDC approval to restart regular passenger sailings since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
As part of its application to restart sailings with Celebrity Edge, Celebrity agreed to operate the ship with at least 95% of passengers vaccinated for COVID-19.
Pushaw said Celebrity's vaccine requirements violate the spirit of an executive order that DeSantis signed in April that prohibits the use of "vaccine passports" in Florida and is a direct violation of a similarly worded Florida law that takes effect on July 1.
"Gov. DeSantis has stated many times that allowing private businesses to require 'vaccine passports' for Floridians taking part in everyday life — attending sporting events, dining at restaurants or even going on cruises — would create two unequal classes of citizens based on vaccination status," Pushaw said. "This would be unethical and harmful for society. Allowing companies like Celebrity Cruises to require 'vaccine passports' for customers would mean tolerating discrimination by private businesses, which is unacceptable in Florida."
Pushaw also suggested the CDC had no legal authority to set any sort of requirements to cruise. She called the CDC's guidelines for cruise ships restarting operations in U.S. waters "coercive."
In a statement, Celebrity Cruises said it still was finalizing its health and safety measures for cruises departing from U.S. ports, including Florida, in collaboration with the CDC as well as local authorities.
"Our commitment to sail with fully vaccinated crew members and guests still stands as it is a meaningful layer to ensure we make every effort to help keep safe our guests, crew and the communities we visit," the line said in the statement.
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