Cafe owner who says he will never implement vaccine passports compares it to 'segregation' during Troubles

Root and Branch co-founder Simon Johnston has said vaccine passports were the "thin end of the wedge" in an Instagram video
Paul Ainsworth

A BELFAST coffee shop owner has insisted he will not ask customers for proof of Covid-19 vaccine status if the Stormont Executive require businesses to check it.

Simon Johnston, co-founder of Root & Branch Coffee Roastery on the Newtownards Road, posted a video on social media comparing the possible introduction of vaccine status checks to segregation experienced during the Troubles.

The businessman, who insisted he did not "want to go into the realm of conspiracy theories", said vaccine "passports" were the "thin end of the wedge" and accused politicians in favour of them as being "naïve or complicit in a bigger picture".

Ministers have published a contingency plan for rising cases that suggests checks could be introduced for "high risk" settings.

A new app has also been launched allowing users to show their vaccine status to businesses if needed.

Mr Johnson told viewers of his Instagram video that he "was not a scientist".

"Any kind of government initiatives around Covid-19, around vaccines, I just don’t want to have anything to do with, and by extension I don’t want Root and Branch to have anything to do with it," he said.

"That’s not me saying vaccines are bad or a waste of time, not at all. Who am I to make such a judgment? Do your own research. I have done my own research and arrived at my own conclusions."

He added: "I will never darken the doorstep of an establishment that orchestrates or helps segregation in any shape or form.

"I grew up in Northern Ireland when segregation was really an issue – it wasn’t fun. I have lived in Siberia where I saw the reverberations through generations of a surveillance society."

Mr Johnson also said he was "not a massive fan" of the high street voucher scheme and would donate any profit from Shop Local cards to an east Belfast food bank.

Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland have recommended the introduction of vaccine checks, including Dr Frances O’Hagan, who said recent relaxations of Covid restrictions despite high case numbers "makes no sense".

BMA NI chair Dr Tom Black has said a vaccine check scheme could "save lives" by encouraging inoculation uptake.

Users posting under Mr Johnson's video were divided, with one stating they were "very happy to hear this from a business owner".

Another wrote: "I have never been through your door and after this post I won’t be".

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