On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) filed a lawsuit in federal court aiming to hold the Chinese Communist Pary accountable for a “sinister campaign of malfeasance and deception” that helped spread the coronavirus across the globe and brought concrete harm to the people of Missouri.
“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,” Schmitt said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“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,” he added.
As of Tuesday morning, Missouri has 5,963 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 215 deaths from it. According to one estimate cited by Fox News, the economic shutdown imposed by the state in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus has cost Missouri about $44 billion.
Missouri is the first state to file legal claims against China, although at least seven federal class-action suits have been filed by private groups. One suit filed in Florida alleged that China knew “COVID-19 was dangerous and capable of causing a pandemic, yet slowly acted, proverbially put their head in the sand, and/or covered it up in their own economic self-interest.”
A British nonprofit urged countries to sue China for breaking international law, placing the damages from the coronavirus at about $4 trillion just for the G7 countries. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) filed a bill that would allow Americans to sue China in U.S. courts for coronavirus damages.
Schmitt’s lawsuit brings four claims against China under Missouri law. It charges Beijing with: a tort of “public nuisance,” interfering with the general public’s health and safety by “censoring media, ceasing and censoring research, destroying scientific materials, making false and/or misleading statements to the international community,” and more; conducting “abnormally dangerous activities” by researching coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab where the virus may have originated; committing a “breach of duty” by negligently allowing COVID-19 to spread across the globe; and committing another “breach of duty” by hoarding personal protective equipment (PPE).
“During the critical weeks of the initial outbreak, 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,” the suit alleges.
According to the lawsuit, Chinese health officials had serious evidence of human-to-human transmission by late December, but they did not report the outbreak to the World Health Organization until December 31. When they did so, they denied the potential for human-to-human transmission.
According to unpublished, unconfirmed Chinese government reports seen by the South China Morning Post, the first recorded case of the coronavirus dates to November 17, 2019, weeks before The Lancet‘s claim that the first recorded case came on December 1. By December 8, the SCMP documents recorded between 1 and 5 new cases. By December 27, the SCMP documents showed 181 confirmed cases, and a friend of coronavirus whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang recalled that his medical department first reported the new outbreak to the Wuhan Center for Disease Control on the 27th.
On December 30, Dr. Li sent a message to his friends about the outbreak, and the police responded by investigating his friends. The authorities forced Dr. Li to pledge not to spread “disruptive rumors.” Meanwhile, by that date, the SCMP documents recorded 266 cases. Li would go on to die of COVID-19 after contracting it from his patients. On December 31, China finally reported the outbreak to the WHO, while claiming there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
On January 1, 2020 a Hubei official ordered coronavirus tests halted and samples of the virus destroyed. On January 14, the WHO reported some human-to-human transmission, but quickly retracted the claim, citing Chinese sources. Wuhan was not put under lockdown until January 22-23. On January 26, Wuhan’s mayor admitted that 5 million people had already left the city.
On January 7, the CCP’s journal Qiushi began publishing timelines of President Xi Jinping’s efforts against the outbreak. A transcript of a speech Xi gave on February 3 referred to a statement he had made on January 7 at a meeting of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, when he had “issued requirements for the prevention and control of the new Coronavirus.”
Xi Jinping could have acted to shut down Wuhan as early as January 7, two weeks before the city was shut down. A University of Southampton study found that if strict quarantine measures had been introduced three weeks earlier, the coronavirus’s spread would have been reduced by 95 percent.
Legal action against the Chinese Communist Party seems extremely fitting, but it remains unclear whether or not Schmitt’s decision to sue China under Missouri law is a proper course of action. It seems Attorney General Bill Barr would have a stronger case if he filed a lawsuit against China in the International Court of Justice, as 22 Republican lawmakers urged him to do.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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