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Why Switzerland’s Covid certificate is ‘not discriminatory’

These anti-vaxxers in Bern believe they are discriminated against.
A woman holds a placard reading "All together for freedom" during a protest against covid certificate and vaccination on September 23, 2021 in Bern. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
A number of rallies have taken place in Switzerland in recent weeks, with thousands of protestors arguing that the Covid certificate requirement is discriminatory. According to legal experts however, it is not.

Since September 13th, the Covid certificate showing vaccination, recovery from coronavirus, or a recent negative test is required to access bars, restaurants, and other indoor venues such as universities.

The government introduced this measure in an effort to curb the number of Covid-related hospital admissions, which climbed during the summer, threatening to overburden intensive care units.

The measure remains highly controversial, with many in Switzerland claiming it violates their fundamental rights and discriminates against those who don’t wish to be vaccinated.

However, such arguments don’t carry much weight, according to Dario Meili, a researcher on inequality and discrimination at the Center for Development and Cooperation at ETH, a public university in Zurich.

“The certificate obligation to access certain places is not discriminatory because one can freely choose to be vaccinated or not”, Meili wrote in a report published on the university website and in Swiss media. He did, however, concede, that it leads to unequal treatment.

Meili defined discrimination as “acts, practices or measures which disadvantage people because of their membership of a certain social group”, based on gender, ethnicity or religious belief.

However, this is not the case for the certificate.

The certificate is also consistent with the Swiss Constitution, Meili writes, as the Constitution guarantees the preponderance of the public interest and the protection of the fundamental rights of third parties, he wrote.

To prove this point, Meili cited the example of a smoking ban in restaurants. The aim is to protect the health of non-smoking customers and staff rather than punish smokers. In this context — as with vaccines —  the freedom to light a cigarette is less important than the right of others to be healthy. 

He also cited another example: the vaccination against yellow fever in tropical countries, where public health takes precedence over the individual freedom of tourists.

Meili noted, too, that comparisons some Swiss anti-vaxers have made between the “certificate discrimination” and apartheid in South Africa or the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany are “not only absurd, but they also weaken the concept of discrimination and erode the principles for tackling current injustices”.

All in all, the certificate doesn’t prevent the unvaccinated people from accessing basic services, such as shopping or using public transportation, he said. Going to restaurants, on the other hand, is not an essential activity.

“Opponents of the certificate, who demand unrestricted fundamental rights, forget that their freedom to go everywhere without a certificate affects the rights of others”, he pointed out.

He quoted Daniel Koch, the former head of the Federal Office of Public Health, who said that “Everyone has the right to take the risk of becoming ill. But no one has the right to infect others”.

READ MORE: Canton-by-canton: How visitors can get Switzerland’s Covid certificate

READ MORE: Travel: Do you need a Covid certificate to enter Switzerland?


Member comments

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  1. While not many, there is a number of arguments supporting the discriminatory view of the rules recently implemented around this certificate. There were relevant discussions at the beginning of the present year around the ethics behind such kind of rules. I think it is worth not to forget those ethical controversies even if medically we need to justify now imposing a certificate.

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