Johann Rupert, reputed to be South Africa’s second richest man, confirmed on Friday that he received a Covid-19 vaccination at a private hospital in Switzerland, however, was “not involved” in the process of securing the appointment.
Rupert did not take calls, but responded briefly via a messaging service to queries from Moneyweb, following Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger claiming in a report on Friday that he managed to be among the first group of people to get the vaccination in Switzerland in December.
The move has drawn outrage in Switzerland (and on Friday morning in South Africa), with Rupert being accused of using his influence to skip to the front of the queue even before the launch of the vaccination campaign in Switzerland.
According to Tages-Anzeiger, Rupert received the vaccination at a Frauenfeld city hospital owned by the Hirslanden Group, which is in-turn owned by JSE-listed Mediclinic International.
Rupert’s own JSE-listed investment group Remgro has a significant stake in Mediclinic. The Swiss newspaper reported that Hirslanden secured a provincial contract to roll out the vaccination drive in Switzerland’s Thurgau region, of which Frauenfeld is the capital.
In his response to Moneyweb, Rupert noted “my physician arranged it” (in reference to securing a dose of the vaccine).
When asked about accusations of jumping the queue to get the vaccination, he replied: “I was not involved in the appointment – my doctor set it up.”
He added: “There were many before me… I have also been paying Swiss Health Insurance for over 30 years”
Rupert, who is founder and current chairman of the Swiss-based and JSE-listed luxury goods giant Richemont, explained that he has been a Swiss taxpayer since the start of Richemont 31 years ago.
“[I am] over 70 years and [have] comorbidity as recognised by Swiss Law,” he said, further noting that in Switzerland “they [vaccines] are already on healthy 55-year-olds in Zurich from next Monday”.
He defended his decision to take the vaccine, noting: “Richemont’s executive committee decided in December that the entire leadership would get vaccinated ASAP.”
He said that the move was aimed to “set an example” for the rest of his colleagues at Richemont, adding “many of whom were worried/scared/doubtful about vaccines”. He however, stressed that “vaccination is an individual choice”.
“Richemont has nearly 10 000 employees in Switzerland alone – most [of whom are] in factories. Another +/- 4 500 work for supplier,” he noted.
“If customers do not feel safe walking into our +/- 3 500 boutiques stores across the world, what will happen to the jobs in Switzerland?” he added.
“We need herd immunity ASAP for the world to avert massive unemployment and chaos,” said Rupert.
South Africa is yet to commence its Covid-19 vaccination process, with the first stage being restricted for frontline healthcare workers.
Mediclinic is yet to comment on the uproar. However, the Swiss newspaper mentions in its story that Hirslanden confirmed that Rupert received the vaccine in December.