South African billionaire and Richemont chairperson Johann Rupert received a Covid-19 vaccination in Switzerland from a Mediclinic-owned hospital group – before the launch of the local official vaccination programme.

The Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reports that Rupert flew to Switzerland in December “desperately looking for a vaccine”.

Unlike most countries which have been seriously afflicted by Covid-19, South Africa still hasn’t launched a vaccination campaign and is currently scrambling to secure doses.

According to Tages-Anzeiger, Rupert received a vaccine from the Hirslanden hospital group in Frauenfeld, the capital of Thurgau  – before the official start of the vaccine campaign in the Swiss canton, in mid-January. Hirslanden is owned by South Africa’s Mediclinic. Rupert is chairperson of Remgro, which owns a 45% stake in Mediclinic.

Hirslanden was awarded an exclusive contract to provide all of Thurgau’s vaccinations, and confirmed to Tages-Anzeiger that Rupert received the jab.

Tages-Anzeiger says the 70-year old Rupert received “preferential treatment” in getting the vaccination before the campaign was launched. Also, in Switzerland, currently only people over the age of 75 can register for the vaccination. But according to Hirslanden, Rupert has chronic pre-existing conditions and is in a risk group that allowed him to be vaccinated.

Hirslanden says that it had permission to administer vaccines to “test subjects of their choice” before the official start of the vaccination campaign. Rupert was one of twelve people who received the jab as part of the test.

In its article, Tages-Anzeiger notes that Thurgau’s new health director worked for Hirslanden until recently.

The report triggered outrage, with Swiss politicians and locals objecting to Rupert’s vaccination, and demanding an investigation into Hirslanden’s contract.

Nina Schläfli, President of the Social Democratic Party of Thurgau, told Tages-Anzeiger that it was an “affront” to the canton’s population. She said it was “inconceivable” that a “billionaire could fly in and everyone else would have to fall behind”.

A Tages-Anzeiger reader asked government why he – as a Swiss citizen and resident of the canton – wasn’t vaccinated. “Do we have a cheap backyard vaccination strategy favouring privileged clinic shareholders, billionaires and overseas tourists?”

Rupert’s official Swiss residence is near Geneva, not in Thurgau, notes Swiss publication FI News.

In a comment to Tages-Anzeiger, Rupert said it was important to him to set an example for all employees in Richemont by getting vaccinated.

According to Forbes, Rupert is currently worth $7.3 billion (R110 billion), making him the fifth richest person in Africa and 375th wealthiest in the world.