Florida sues to end cruise ship COVID restrictions
Cruise Ship (AFP)

The US state of Florida is suing the Biden administration to allow cruise ships to start sailing after a year-long moratorium on operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, the governor's office said Thursday.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, whose state relies heavily on tourism dollars, authorized the lawsuit against the sailing ban, calling the original order "unlawful."

"We must allow our cruise liners and their employees to get back to work and safely set sail again," DeSantis was quoted as saying in a statement.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered cruise companies to halt operations in the country in March 2020 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"To be clear, no federal law authorizes the CDC to indefinitely impose a nationwide shutdown of an entire industry. This lawsuit is necessary to protect Floridians from the federal government's overreach and resulting economic harm to our state," said DeSantis, a staunch supporter of former president Donald Trump who is considered a future presidential contender himself.

He has been eager to end coronavirus-induced lockdowns and never instituted a state-wide mask mandate.

Experts said the lawsuit was doomed to fail.

"Under no circumstance could I see a judge striking down a regulation that applies to cruise ships and the safety of its passengers because its passengers are going to be introducing infectious diseases back into the US if they get infected on the ship. The US has a very strong interest and power to stop that," Larry Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization's center on global health law told the Miami Herald.

The CDC's initial "no sail order" was changed to a "conditional sail order" in November to allow a provisional return to cruise operations, which was updated earlier this month.

The orders limit cruise operations and include guidance on mitigating virus spread, handling ill passengers, testing crew members, quarantines and contact tracing.

The head of the CDC's maritime division, Martin Cetron, told the Herald this week that holidaymakers could be cruising again from US ports as soon as July, as more people are vaccinated and if the spread of coronavirus variants can be mitigated.

"We are aware of the lawsuit and share the sense of urgency of getting Americans back to work," cruise company Carnival Corporation spokesman Roger Frizzell told the Herald.

"Our focus is trying to work with the CDC on a plan to resume cruise operations this summer."

But Florida authorities say the CDC does not have the authority to direct cruise ships' business operations and that the regulations are harmful.

"Every day the federal government unfairly keeps this economic giant docked, our economy suffers," said state Attorney General Ashley Moody, calling the CDC rules "heavy-handed federal overreach."