Analysis and commentary
Catherine Riva, Serena Tinari –
February 7, 2022

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The Federal Council announced on February 2nd, 2022, that the domestic use of the COVID certificate could be revoked on February 17. The proposal is currently under consultation with the cantons. It is only a small step to the conclusion, that the days of this system are numbered. In reality, though, everything indicates that the authorities intend to continue its development as well as that of the tracking app SwissCovid, which is also very controversial.

Update: In Switzerland and in the European Union, the authorities are perpetuating controversial devices behind the scenes

On February 1st, 2022, the online media Inside-IT revealed that the company Ubique had – once again – been awarded a mandate, this time over CHF 5.5 million, by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), in the context of a private contracting procedure, i.e. without a call for tenders. The mandate concerns the SwissCovid app and the COVID certificate app developed by Ubique. The mandate runs until December 31, 2023. Wouldn’t there be a contradiction between the declarations of the executive, and the fact of investing several million francs in these devices?

No, says the government. The reasons put forward by the Federal Council and the FOPH to justify the maintenance and development of this infrastructure are the unknowns that the future holds and the refusal to waste money. However, FOPH spokesman Grégoire Gogniat assured us in November 2021 that “there has never been any question of keeping the certificate in the long term. The objective has always been to use the certificate during the pandemic”.

In fact, “the pandemic” seems to be becoming a concept that can be extended at will by means of vague eventualities: the potential requirements (present and future) of the Schengen States for travelers, the possible decision of the cantons to continue to use the certificates, or a possible return of the coronavirus in the fall and winter of 2022, which could require a reactivation of these apps. Perfectly conceivable scenarios, if one remembers that to date, neither the authorities nor the World Health Organization (WHO) have indicated which conditions should be met to consider the pandemic as “over”.

Finally, the “no waste” argument allows the authorities to claim that these apps for tracking and storing COVID certificates have not yet “served their purpose” and that “it would not make sense to throw them away and then have to start all over again”, as Patrick Mathys, head of the Crisis Management and International Cooperation section at the FOPH, stated. The reason given was that these apps could be used in the case of other diseases or epidemics. It is in this spirit of “recycling” Covid tools that the FOPH has also launched a call for tenders to further develop the Covid-19 dashboard “into an EPI information portal”. This mandate runs until August 31, 2027.

All these developments, including the statements of the Conference of Cantonal Health Directors and of the European Commission, confirm the risks inherent in Covid-19 certificate-type devices that we pointed out and documented in our investigation published in 2021: when a “temporary” solution of this kind is put in place, there is a great risk that it becomes permanent and ends up being used for a purpose different from the one initially intended. This is referred to as “function creep” (1) (2).

In this context, a major societal debate on these issues and a complete review of the management of the Covid crisis appear more necessary than ever. Will the Parliament finally take that on?