Richemont Chairman Johann Rupert received his first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic his family has investment ties to in Switzerland, sparking a controversy in the country about who should get inoculated first.
The South African billionaire got the shot at Hirslanden AG, which is owned by Mediclinic International Plc, a hospital operator the Rupert family has invested in through Remgro Ltd. Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger said he was one of 12 test patients in the canton of Thurgau shortly before vaccinations were offered to a wider public on Jan. 12.
Rupert’s wealth and connection to Hirslanden raised concern that he got preferential treatment and jumped the line as the vast majority of the Swiss elderly and high-risk population still wait for the shot. “This is an affront to all Thurgau residents who have been waiting for a vaccination appointment for weeks,” Nina Schlaefli, a Socialist politician, said in a tweet.
Rupert said his physician arranged the vaccination because he is 70 and has co-morbidities as defined by Swiss law. The country has started vaccinations for various groups of people, including those over 75 or with serious health issues.
“We need herd immunity ASAP for the world to avert massive unemployment and chaos,” he said by phone. “I have been a Swiss taxpayer since the start of Richemont 31 years ago.”
Richemont’s executive committee decided in December that management would get vaccinated as early as possible to set an example for employees, Rupert said.
The billionaire is a resident of Satigny, a village in the canton of Geneva.
Switzerland started preliminary inoculations on Dec. 23 before the official national start on Jan. 12. The country has administered 169,783 vaccine doses as of Jan. 21, according to the Swiss Health Ministry. The government has been criticised for its delayed publication of the numbers amid a perceived slow roll-out of inoculations in the country of 8.5 million.
Rupert is also a prominent member of the wealthy elite in South Africa, a country that’s some way down the queue for vaccines with only 1.5 million doses ordered to date for a population of more than 60 million. He’s that country’s richest person with a net worth of $8.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
His family has committed R1 billion to South Africa’s Solidarity Fund to support small businesses and save jobs.
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