Missouri, one of the 50 states of the United States, has sued China for lying about the dangers of the coronavirus and not doing enough to slow its spread.
The lawsuit alleges that Chinese officials are to blame for the pandemic that has sickened around 2.5 million worldwide, thrown tens of millions out of work and devastated local economies, including in China.
Filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, the lawsuit was filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt against the Chinese government, the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and other Chinese officials and institutions.
The lawsuit alleges that during the critical weeks of the initial outbreak, the Chinese authorities deceived the public, suppressed crucial information, arrested whistleblowers, denied human-to-human transmission in the face of mounting evidence, destroyed critical medical research, permitted millions of people to be exposed to the virus, and even hoarded personal protective equipment (PPE, causing a global pandemic that was unnecessary and preventable.
“COVID-19 has done irreparable damage to countries across the globe, causing sickness, death, economic disruption, and human suffering. In Missouri, the impact of the virus is very real – thousands have been infected and many have died, families have been separated from dying loved ones, small businesses are shuttering their doors, and those living paycheck to paycheck are struggling to put food on their table,” said Schmitt.
“The Chinese government lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistleblowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease. They must be held accountable for their actions,” he alleged.
According to the lawsuit, by late December, the Chinese health officials had serious evidence of human-to-human transmission.
Despite this evidence, the Chinese health officials did not report the outbreak to the World Health Organization until December 31. When the Chinese authorities did inform the WHO of the outbreak, they denied the potential for human-to-human transmission, it said.
The lawsuit also alleges that, despite having knowledge of the disease, the Chinese officials did little to contain the spread.
According to media reports, nearly 175,000 individuals left Wuhan on January 1 alone to travel for the Lunar New Year. The Chinese government also continued with New Year celebrations, despite the risk for potential further infections.
Dismissing the lawsuit, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the legal action has “no factual and legal basis at all” and repeated China’s defense of its response to the outbreak, which has largely subsided in the country where it was first detected.
“This so-called lawsuit is very absurd and has no factual and legal basis at all,” Geng said at a daily briefing. Since the outbreak began, China has proceeded in an “open, transparent, and responsible manner” and the U.S. government should “dismiss such vexatious litigation,” he said.
According to experts, Missouri’s action is likely to be largely symbolic, however, since lawsuits against other countries typically don’t go anywhere because U.S. law generally prohibits them.