Switzerland pushes back against Covid vaccine patent waiver proposal

Switzerland voiced scepticism Thursday over a US-backed proposal to waive patent rights on Covid-19 vaccines, but said it was open to discussion.

Switzerland pushes back against Covid vaccine patent waiver proposal
A man walks past a coronavirus vaccination centre. Switzerland is resistant to sharing patent information worldwide. Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP

The Swiss State Secretariate for Economic Affairs (SECO) told AFP it was aware of Washington’s “significant” announcement on Wednesday backing a months-long push at the World Trade Organisation for a global waiver on intellectual property protections for the Covid-19 jabs while the pandemic rages.

“Like other WTO members, Switzerland remains convinced that a suspension of intellectual property protection rights in the context of the pandemic would not guarantee equitable, affordable and quick access to vaccines, treatments and diagnostic products against Covid-19,” it said in an email.

READ MORE: When can foreign tourists come to Switzerland again?

“That kind of access would rather require tight and harmonious cooperation between all the concerned actors.”

SECO added though that Switzerland “of course remains open to pursuing work on these questions within the framework of the WTO, and to discussing possible solutions to the difficulties.”

“In this context, Switzerland will evaluate the new proposal by the United States… as well as the consequences for the Swiss position.”

The WTO has since October faced calls led by India and South Africa for the temporary removal of intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines, in what proponents say will boost production in developing countries and address the dramatic inequity in access.

But that notion had previously met with fierce opposition from pharmaceutical giants and their host countries, including the United States and Switzerland, which had insisted patents were not the main roadblocks to scaling up production and warned the move could hamper innovation.

ANALYSIS: Why are Switzerland’s coronavirus numbers falling so sharply?

The positions appeared to be shifting rapidly Thursday, with the EU, France and other longtime opponents saying they were now ready to discuss a waiver proposal.

A Western diplomat close to the waiver discussions at the WTO told AFP that countries were under intense political pressure to fall in line, noting that no one “wants to be left standing there on their own.”

The diplomat, who asked not to be named, suggested though that Switzerland, which is home to several pharmaceutical giants like Roche and Novartis, would “probably be the last domino to fall.”

Berlin meanwhile also voiced opposition Thursday to the US proposal, with a government spokeswoman warning that it “has significant implications for vaccine production as a whole.”

“What you are likely to see now is some form of negotiation,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters when asked whether the German opposition would doom a possible deal at the organisation, which requires consensus among all 164 member states for all decisions.

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Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival cancels concerts of unvaccinated British artists

Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival announced on Friday that it was forced to drop the acts of four UK-based artists from its summer program because they haven’t been fully vaccinated yet.

Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival cancels concerts of unvaccinated British artists
British singer-songwriter Rag'n'Bone Man was dropped from Montreux Jazx Festival. Photo: GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP

The move was done in order to comply with current Covid-19 entry rules into Switzerland, which state that from June 26th, travellers from outside the Schengen zone, including Brits, will only be allowed to enter Switzerland if they have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus. 

READ ALSO: Switzerland relaxes travel rules for vaccinated Americans and Brits: What you need to know

British soul singer Rag’n’Bone Man who was one of the headliners for the 2021 edition of the festival, which starts on July 2nd, will now no longer be able to attend due to not being fully vaccinated.

Other unvaccinated acts based in the UK who were also dropped because of the new entry rules include Inhaler, Alfa Mist and the Yussef Dayes Trio.

The artists have already been replaced with other performers from around Europe including Italian singer Zucchero, Woodkid, Dutch songwriter Benny Sings and Danish jazz trio Athletic Progression.

In a statement on June 25th, festival organisers said they were trying to make sure that the concerts of the other UK artists would continue to go ahead, however it is tricky because of fears over the Delta strain of the Covid virus, which has now become dominant in Britain.

“Whether or not these artists can come depends on their vaccination status and that of their touring entourage, as well as their ability to quarantine at the start of their European tour or before their concert at Montreux,” they said.

The Montreux Jazz Festival is one of just a small handful of big music festivals in Switzerland that will still go ahead this summer. Other music events such as St Gallen Open-Air, Paléo and Bern’s Gurten festival have been cancelled for the second year in a row, due to ongoing fears over the Covid-19 virus.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: What rules do European countries have for travellers from the UK?