Covid-19 Vaccine and Variants News: Live Updates on Global Cases. Norwegian Cruise Line sues Florida over prohibition on vaccine requirements. The fight over requiring vaccinations for travel is heating up. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings sued Florida’s surgeon general on Tuesday, accusing the state of preventing it from “safely and soundly” resuming trips by barring it from requiring customers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The filing represents the latest twist in a monthslong fight over the resumption of cruises from Florida, a hub for the industry. Under Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state has fought vaccine requirements by cruises and other businesses, claiming that such policies are discriminatory. Supporters of vaccine requirements have argued that requiring vaccines is necessary to protect public health.
Under a state law approved in May, businesses that force customers to provide proof of vaccination could face fines of up to $5,000 per violation. In its lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Norwegian said it was forced to sue Scott Rivkees, the state’s surgeon general, “as a last resort.”
“One anomalous, misguided intrusion threatens to spoil N.C.L.H.’s careful planning and force it to cancel or hobble upcoming cruises, thereby imperiling and impairing passengers’ experiences and inflicting irreparable harm of vast dimensions,” the company said in the lawsuit.
Norwegian is claiming that Florida’s ban is not valid because it pre-empts federal law and violates various provisions of the Constitution, including the First Amendment. Neither Norwegian nor the Florida Department of Health immediately responded to requests for comment.
After banning cruises nearly a year and a half ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in the fall that it would allow cruises to set sail again. The agency later developed a set of stringent conditions that cruise lines are required to follow.
Florida sued the C.D.C., arguing that the health agency had overstepped its authority in setting those standards. In June, a federal judge temporarily blocked the agency from enforcing the rules in the state while the case proceeds. Later that month, Celebrity Cruises, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Group, began the first major cruise from a U.S. port since the pandemic began, sailing from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Norwegian hopes to restart cruises from Miami on Aug. 15.
The industry was devastated by the pandemic, with ridership falling 80 percent last year compared with 2019. The three major cruise companies — Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean and Norwegian — have lost a combined $900 million each month since March 2020, according to a recent report by Moody’s, the credit rating firm.
The day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson set England on course for “freedom day” next week, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Tuesday outlined more cautious plans to relax coronavirus rules and said face masks would still be required for “some time to come.”
While England embarks on a wholesale lifting of its remaining restrictions on Monday, people in Scotland will still be urged to work from home, face restrictions on the size of gatherings and be obliged to wear face coverings in indoor spaces, including public transportation.
Throughout the pandemic Ms. Sturgeon has taken a more cautious approach than Mr. Johnson, prioritizing heath over the economy and invariably adopting tougher restrictions, and her announcement on Tuesday was no exception.
“A gradual approach stands the best chance of minimizing further health harm and loss of life,” Ms. Sturgeon told a virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament, adding that “because a gradual approach stands the best chance of being a sustainable approach it will be better in the long term for the economy as well.”
The difference was most stark on the issue of face coverings which, she said, would remain mandatory in Scotland “not just now, but in all likelihood, for some time to come.”
On Monday Mr. Johnson said that rules requiring masks would be scrapped in England, but that the government would recommend their use in crowded indoor places such as public transportation. Even that was a change in tone from Mr. Johnson and some of his ministers who had previously appeared more enthusiastic about ending the use of face coverings. And tabloid newspapers have campaigned for the end of restrictions, a moment they have anticipated as “freedom day.”
In a thinly veiled attack on Mr. Johnson’s policy on masks, Ms. Sturgeon said that “if a government believes that measures like this matter — and this government does — we should say so, we should do what is necessary to ensure compliance and we should be prepared to take any resulting flak.”
She added, pointedly: “We shouldn’t lift important restrictions to make our lives easier and then expect the public to take responsibility for doing the right thing anyway.”
Despite the caveats, Ms. Sturgeon said that infections in Scotland were falling sufficiently to allow all Scottish regions to move to the lowest tier of restrictions, known as Level 0, from Monday. This means that all shops, pubs, restaurants and other venues can open, except for nightclubs and adult entertainment. However, some social distancing rules will remain and hospitality venues will have to close at midnight.
If the data continues to improve, a further relaxation of restrictions will be made in August.
Scotland recorded 2,529 daily cases according to the latest figures, a reduction in the numbers after a rapid rise at the beginning of the month.
Mr. Johnson believes the vaccine rollout is weakening the link between infections and hospital admissions, and Ms. Sturgeon expressed some relief that the National Health Service seemed to be under less strain than at other points during the pandemic. Still, she said that the system could face pressure if the case numbers were to rise. In Scotland, virtually all those over 60 years old have been fully vaccinated, including 96 percent of those aged 55 to 59, she said.
“Lifting all restrictions and mitigations right now would put all of us at greater risk,” Ms. Sturgeon added, “but in particular it would make it much more difficult for the most clinically vulnerable to go about their normal life.”
However Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Scotland’s opposition party, said that the sacrifices made by the public were not being fully rewarded and that “the balance has to tilt further in favor of moving forward.
At least 64 people were killed when the new coronavirus isolation ward at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriya, Iraq, caught fire. It was not immediately clear what had caused the fire.CreditCredit…Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press
BAGHDAD — The death toll at a southern Iraqi hospital treating Covid patients rose to at least 92 people on Tuesday, as witnesses described chaotic scenes of volunteers desperately trying to pry open a padlocked front door, malfunctioning fire extinguishers, and fire trucks running out of water as the ward burned.
The fast-spreading blaze tore through the new isolation ward at the Imam Hussein Teaching Hospital in the city of Nasiriya late Monday night into early Tuesday. It was the second such tragedy in the country in less than three months, after a similar fire broke out in April in a Baghdad coronavirus hospital and killed at least 82 people.
“Most of the patients were breathing through ventilators and unable to move,” said Dr. Aws Adel, a health official for the province of Dhi Qar which includes Nasiriya. “Most of the hospital staff were able to escape.”
The lack of precautions at the hospital, the speed at which the fire spread, and the feeble ability to fight it reflected a country in deep crisis after years of corruption and government mismanagement have left basic government services barely functioning.
The fire was sparked by an electrical short in a ventilator that resulted in oxygen canisters exploding, said Brig. Gen. Fouad Kareem Abdullah, a provincial police spokesman.
The Iraqi civil defense chief, Maj. Gen. Kathem Bohan, said the building that housed the three-month-old coronavirus isolation ward next to the main hospital had been constructed from flammable materials. The roof appeared to have melted along with sandwich board panels with foam cores that made up much of the construction. Other officials have said oxygen is stored haphazardly at almost all Iraqi hospitals.
Provincial health officials said that around 70 patients and at least as many of their relatives were in the ward when the fire broke out. While normal coronavirus precautions ban visitors from isolation wards, a lack of nursing and other hospital staff in Iraq mean that patients rely on family members to take care of them.
Iraq is in the midst of a third wave of coronavirus infections. Last week, the country reached a high of 9,000 new cases a day with more than 17,000 dead since the pandemic began, according to the Health Ministry. The infection and death rates are believed to be significantly undercounted because many people believe it is safer to be treated at home.