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Florida sues federal government over cruise industry restrictions

The state of Florida is suing the Biden administration to reopen the cruise industry “immediately” and allow cruises to “resume safely,” Florida’s governor and attorney general announced Thursday.

“We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data. And I think we have a good chance for success,” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference at the Port of Miami.

The complaint was filed Thursday by state Attorney General Ashley Moody in federal district court against the Health and Human Services Department and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our litigation seeks to end this federal overreach and allow Floridians to safely get back to work and travel,” Moody said in a statement.

CNN has reached out to the CDC and HHS for comment.

Florida’s lawsuit comes as the US cruise ship industry is putting pressure on the CDC to resume cruising now that more and more Americans are getting vaccinated and the industry has resumed in other major cruise markets globally.

Florida is asking the court to block the CDC and HHS from enforcing an October “conditional sailing” order, which it suggested is effectively a ban on cruises, and “hold that cruises should be allowed to operate with reasonable safety protocols.”

“The CDC has continued these actions against the cruise industry even as it has treated similar industries differently, including ones that hold passengers in close quarters,” the complaint says, pointing to the CDC’s treatment of the airline industry.

At the start of pandemic in March 2020, the CDC issued a no-sail order for cruise ships operating in US waters, leading cruise companies to suffer billions in losses last year.

In October, the CDC announced its “framework for conditional sailing order,” detailing regulations for a phased resumption of cruises that includes testing all crew, developing onboard laboratory capacity and running “simulated voyages.” The order is in effect until November 1, or when Covid-19 is no longer a public health emergency, or the CDC director rescinds or modifies it.

The CDC on Friday put out guidance outlining how it expects to allow a resumption of sailings — recommending, rather than requiring, that passengers be vaccinated. The agency said it wanted to see “simulated (trial) voyages that will allow crew and port personnel to practice new Covid-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers.”

The CDC did not provide a date it plans to allow US sailings again for the first time since March 2020.

The CDC still recommends against nonessential travel overall — especially for unvaccinated people — but it issued new guidance last week that those who are fully vaccinated can travel at low risk to themselves and within the US without getting tested for Covid-19 beforehand or self-quarantining afterward, so long as precautions are taken.

In its complaint, the Florida attorney general’s office pointed to President Joe Biden’s deadline for all US adults to be eligible for Covid vaccines by April 19 and noted that Americans are traveling again, with other industries, like hotels and restaurants, safely reopening.

“But as these industries begin to restart and rebuild, the cruise industry has been singled out, and unlike the rest of America, prevented from reopening,” it said.

Both DeSantis and Moody warned that if the US cruise industry doesn’t reopen, tourists will seek to book cruises in other countries, resulting in lost revenue for Florida and other states.

DeSantis said that tens of thousands of Floridians depend on the “viability of the cruise industry for their livelihoods, for their jobs, their ability to feed their families.”

Moody accused the Biden administration of being unwilling “to revamp and consider lifting these no sail orders and allow us to resume this thriving industry with reasonable health protocols.”

The Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, said in a statement Thursday that it’s “grateful for Governor DeSantis’ support of the cruise community and we appreciate his efforts to restart cruising safely.”

“Tens of thousands of Floridians rely on cruising for their livelihoods, including longshoremen, taxi drivers, travel agents and tour operators, ports, and numerous suppliers and vendors that make the cruise industry work,” the group said. “Ultimately, the CDC and the entire U.S. cruise community want the same thing — the responsible resumption of cruising from the U.S. this summer.”

The group had called on the Biden administration to lift the CDC’s October conditional sailing order and said the agency’s additional instructions issued last week were “unduly burdensome” and “largely unworkable.”

This story has been updated with more details from the complaint and a statement from the Cruise Lines International Association.

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