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As the number of cases of the MERS virus continues to rise, a new law in Florida is pushing some cruise lines to cancel planned trips to the state. The new law requires all passengers to show proof of vaccination. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as two million Americans travel to the Middle East every year, and that up to 50,000 are exposed to the virus each year.
The state of Florida has long been one of the nation’s leaders in the number of international cruises departing from its ports. But now a pending state law could affect the number of ships allowed to sail from the Sunshine State, possibly forcing cancellation of some upcoming sailings.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings will start its engines and call at new ports unless Florida allows it to make the COVID-19 vaccination a condition of boarding.
Why Norwegian should consider leaving Florida
Frank Del Rio, CEO of the company that operates Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, made it clear in his first-quarter earnings call that the industry needed to get back on track after 14 months of stalemate and that he would send his ships wherever he could.
After all, cruise ships have engines, propellers and rudders, and if, God forbid, for some reason we can’t operate in the state of Florida, there are other states where we operate, Del Rio said. And we can work out of the Caribbean for ships that would otherwise go to Florida.
His comments were made in response to questions about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who recently signed a bill through the state legislature that would prohibit Florida businesses, schools and government agencies from requiring anyone to confirm a vaccination against COVID-19. This, of course, includes ships leaving Florida’s busy ports.
They have the right to participate in the community without having to disclose medical information, such as going to the movies or playing a game, he told Fox News host Laura Ingraham after state lawmakers passed the law. DeSantis also said the immunization cards would create two classes of citizens based on immunizations.
Vaccination certificates Breach of contract or key to the future of cruising?
The world’s third largest cruise line has already announced that it will offer cruises in the summer from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and Montego Bay in Jamaica. NCL has also stated that all passengers and crew members should be fully vaccinated at this time, as the company believes this is the safest way to resume operations under current conditions.
Del Rio’s blatant threat puts DeSantis and his administration in a tough spot, especially since the governor and attorney general recently filed a lawsuit against the Center for Disease Control with the specific goal of getting the cruise ships back in Florida as soon as possible.
For its part, the CDC has indicated in recent guidance two different routes for resuming vaccination, including a much simpler route involving sailing with vaccinated crew and passengers.
MORE: Cruise passengers divided on mandatory vaccinations
Meanwhile, Del Rio believes that some of the CDC’s recent recommendations for the cruise industry are misguided at best. While he acknowledged that the agency is finally engaging in a constructive dialogue with the industry, he called some of the details of the recently released directive absurd.
Mr Del Rio is particularly concerned about the rules on face closure on board ships.
Even if everyone on board is vaccinated, the mask must be put on and taken off between meals and drinks, he added. So no one should order soup because the mask might be sloppy, he said in a speech to investors. I think that’s just absurd.
Can Norwegian Gem leave the US permanently?
Del Rio added that given the 90 days it takes for the ship to be ready to set sail after clearance, he doesn’t think U.S. cruises in July will be possible for the brands he oversees. As a result, NCL will begin operations from ports in the Caribbean and Europe.
He also says sales on ocean flights, including Norwegian Gem flights from Punta Cana to R.D., where there are connections to major U.S. cities, are encouraging.
Who knows? That ship could be so profitable there that it will never return to U.S. waters, one of the economic losses of a prolonged CDC shutdown, Del Rio speculates.
The executive director said Noor has been in contact with DeSantis’ office, but has seen little progress in solving this apparent mystery.
We just need to get going, Del Rio concluded. All these ridiculous rules, this excessive interference, must be abolished.
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