Cafe owner takes stance against government's vaccine pass system
Kim Jong-min, 35, a cafe owner in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, recently started a campaign offering free coffee to people who are not vaccinated.
“The government’s vaccine pass system triggers discrimination between vaccinated people and those who choose not to get vaccinated,” Kim told the Korea JoongAng Daily on Wednesday. “Some are kicked out of restaurants and cafes just because they are not vaccinated.”
“It’s not wrong that people choose not to get vaccinated,” Kim added. “I started the campaign because I wanted to encourage them not be intimidated about their decision.”
Under the government’s vaccine pass policy that went into effect from Dec. 13, restaurants, bars, cafes, or any other public facilities where people gather are required to check the vaccination status of their customers. Only those who can provide evidence of their vaccination status, at least 14 days after their second shot, or a negative PCR test conducted within 48 hours can enter these facilities. Vaccine passes are not required for people using such facilities alone.
Customers in violation of the policy can be subject to a 100,000-won ($84.50) penalty, while the owner of a facility or store can be fined 1.5 million won if caught for the first time, and 3 million won if caught again.
They will also be subjected to a 10-day business ban if caught violating the policy for the first time, which will increase to 20 days if caught a second time and three months for a third. They will be shut down completely if they violate the policy a fourth time.
To evade possible penalties, some businesses don’t accept any unvaccinated customers. Many people have been sharing their experiences of being kicked out of restaurants and cafes on online communities.
Kim’s campaign went viral, garnering the attention of many across the country, especially those who are unvaccinated. Some visit Kim's cafe to show their support, while others buy from her online and leave words of encouragement on their orders.
“The reason why people visit my cafe is not just to get a free cup of coffee. Their intention is to support me and my campaign,” Kim said. “I want unvaccinated people to be confident about their decision.”
Kim has handed out some 30 free coffees so far.
But he added that he's also received criticism from people who argue that vaccinations are essential not just for themselves but for others. Kim had posted a notice in his cafe that read “The unvaccinated are not virus carriers,” but had to remove it upon a request from Coffee Bay, the franchise company with which he's contracted.
“I will never get the vaccine,” Kim said. “It normally takes 7 to 10 years to develop a new drug since it takes time to observe side effects. Making a safe vaccine in only a year doesn’t make sense to me at all.”
“I believe the government has its own good reasons to come up with Covid-19 measures, and I respect them,” Kim said. “But what I can confidently say is that the vaccine pass system is wrong. Although I removed the notice, I will continue the campaign until the government withdraws the policy.”
People like Kim argue that they can’t fully trust the safety of Covid-19 vaccines. Around 13,500 people are reported to have died after receiving vaccines as of Dec. 1, however, only two of those cases were recognized as vaccine-related deaths by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Some 1,200 people had severe reactions after being vaccinated, but only five were recognized as being vaccine-related by the government.
Others choose not to get vaccinated due to personal reasons, such as pregnant women who are concerned about the effects the vaccine could have on their babies, and some who are studying for big exams and are concerned that side effects could hinder their schedules.
“I was told by my doctor not to get vaccinated until I give birth, but people treat me like I'm selfish and a potential virus carrier,” said a 31-year-old pregnant woman surnamed Jin who lives in Gangnam District, southern Seoul. “The government didn’t include pregnant women in the exempt category, so I have to a PCR test every time I have an appointment. The queue takes at least one hour every time.”
“Once I showed the negative result to enter a restaurant and the owner jumped down my throat about why had I not gotten vaccinated,” Jin told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “The attitude of the owner was very offensive. It’s no exaggeration to say that I can’t lead a normal life since the introduction of the vaccine pass system.”
On Dec. 28, a woman in her late 20s, who stated that she was unvaccinated and a job seeker, filed an online petition on the Blue House website, demanding the government withdraw the vaccine pass system that is “triggering hatred and discrimination.”
“Unvaccinated people are not the virus, please let us not have to feel guilty when socializing with vaccinated people,” the post reads.
She added she was not offered a job after revealing she is unvaccinated during the final interview.
“Please allow all people, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated, to overcome the situation altogether rather than showing hatred and aversion toward each other.”
There were over 200 posts demanding the withdrawal of the vaccine pass system on the Blue house petition website as of Dec. 29.
Some 500 self-employed people staged a protest in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, on Dec. 22, urging the government to withdraw the vaccine pass system. The protest was organized by the Korea Federation of Micro Enterprise.
BY SARAH CHEA [firstname.lastname@example.org]