The US state of Missouri has issued a lawsuit against the Chinese authorities, accusing them of “appalling campaign of deceit, concealment, misfeasance, and inaction” which led to “the enormous loss of life, human suffering, and economic turmoil” caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“During the critical weeks of the initial outbreak,” it reads, “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 – thus causing a global pandemic that was unnecessary and preventable.”
Under US federal law, individual states are unable to sue entire countries - except in exceptional circumstances. The state's case argues that China’s behaviour over coronavirus and its implications stemmed from “commercial” interests, meaning they have the right to sue.
“Defendants are responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses they inflicted on the world, including Missourians, and they should be held accountable.”
Concerns about the Chinese government’s transparency about the virus have been a running theme since early in the pandemic. In particular, questions have circulated about the government’s candour when it comes to the virus’s nature and infectiousness, as well as the true death toll in Wuhan.
On the point of hoarding personal protective equipment (PPE), China was criticised by the US in early March for keeping tons of masks and other medical safety wear, which it manufactures, for its own pandemic control efforts, even as it received an 18-ton shipment from the Trump administration – which had many times downplayed the virus’s global impact.
Missouri has confirmed close to 200 deaths from coronavirus, with around 2,000 cases. Speaking to Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt laid the outbreak’s human and economic toll at the Chinese government’s feet.
“What’s become clear in recent weeks is the deception, the misrepresentation, the concealment of the Chinese government of the origins of this vicious virus that’s impacted the entire globe … they were aware of the human-to-human contact and transmission very early on, hid that, punished and concealed the evidence from whistleblowers, and the impact has been devastating.”
Asked in the Fox interview whether he had received pushback, Mr Schmitt sounded upbeat. He pointed out that while US law says that foreign countries do not come under the jurisdiction of American courts, there is a legal exemption under the Federal Sovereignties Immunity Act that allows states to sue other countries for “an act outside the territory of the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere and that act causes a direct effect in the United States”.
“We feel very confident in the case … The fact that they were running the virology lab, the fact that they were running hospital systems, the fact that they were hoarding PPE, we think that’s squarely under that exemption, which is why we brought the case.”
The virology lab to which Mr Schmitt referred is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is cited in the case as one theorised point of origin for the virus.
Theories about the lab’s involvement in the virus’s spread have lately become popular on the US right, ranging from claims that the virus escaped via an infected worker to the notion that coronavirus was developed there as a biological weapon.
No hard scientific evidence has as yet been advanced to support either claim, and the current mainstream scientific consensus is that the virus is animal-borne.
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