U.S. appeals court lifts CDC cruise ship restrictions in win for Florida

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A federal appeals court late on Friday reversed course and let stand a lower court order prohibiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from enforcing coronavirus-related cruise ship restrictions in Florida.

FILE PHOTO: A view of the Coral Princess ship, of Princess Cruises fleet, with patients affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as it docks at Miami Port, in Miami, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2020. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Saturday had voted 2-1 to block a lower court decision that barred the CDC’s cruise ship order from being enforced.

A spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said the state is pleased the appeals court has lifted “the prior order allowing the preliminary junction to be in place.”

The three-judge 11th Circuit appeals panel on Friday said it had withdrawn its earlier order and rejected the government’s request because it had “failed to demonstrate an entitlement to a stay pending appeal.”

The appeals court ruling came soon after the state of Florida had filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court asking the high court to lift the appeals court order, warning that without action the state was “all but guaranteed to lose yet another summer cruise season while the CDC pursues its appeal,” the state said in its filing to the Supreme Court.

CDC did not immediately comment on Friday on the appeals court order.

In June, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday in siding with Republican-led Florida found the state was “highly likely” to show the CDC exceeded its authority in adopting rules governing the resumption of cruise ship sailing.

The CDC in May began approving some cruise operations after lengthy talks with the industry about health and safety protocols. Operations were suspended in March 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

CDC’s conditional sail order said cruise lines that ensured at least 95% of passengers and nearly all crew were vaccinated could bypass simulated voyages and move more quickly to resuming commercial trips.

Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group, did not indicate on Friday whether it supported Florida’a legal challenge, but said before the appeals court order that cruise ships will continue to operate in accordance with the CDC requirements.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd has sued Florida, saying state law prohibiting cruise lines from requiring COVID-19 vaccine documentation was preventing it “from safely and soundly resuming passenger cruise operations” from Miami starting on Aug. 15.

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