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U.S. State sues China for COVID-19 pandemic

April 22, 2020 11:48 am | Updated 11:48 am IST - Washington

Security personnel wearing hazmat suits stand in front of the Wuhan Leishenshan Hospital in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province.

Security personnel wearing hazmat suits stand in front of the Wuhan Leishenshan Hospital in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province.

A U.S. State has filed a lawsuit against China alleging that Beijing’s actions to suppress information, arrest whistleblowers and denying the contagious nature of the novel coronavirus led to “irreparable damage” to countries globally while causing human suffering and severe economic disruption.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, the first of its kind 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 Mr. 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 data gathered by the New York Times , nearly 175,000 individuals left Wuhan on January 1 alone to travel for the Lunar New Year.

The lawsuit seeks relief on one count of public nuisance, one count of abnormally dangerous activities, and two counts of breach of duty. Remedies could include civil penalties and restitution, abatement of the public nuisance, cessation of abnormally dangerous activities, punitive damages and more.

Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence welcomed the lawsuit.

“The Chinese Communist Party did what authoritarians always do: they hid the truth to save their hides. Chairman Xi’s lies have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and wreaked untold economic damage,” he said.

“Chairman Xi has silenced doctors, hid critical scientific data, refused access to health officials until mid-February, sent worthless equipment to Europe, and blamed the United States. After Americans beat this nasty virus, we’re going to hold China’s corrupt government accountable,” Sasse said.

Last week, Congressmen Chris Smith and Ron Wright had introduced a legislation that would strip China and other countries of their sovereign immunity if they intentionally made misrepresentations regarding the coronavirus, thereby allowing U.S. citizens, businesses and the local government to sue those governments for the deaths, pain and suffering, and economic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My bill strips China, and any other country which intentionally misleads the WHO, of its sovereign immunity, and allows Americans to sue the Chinese government in court for the damages they have suffered as a consequence of China’s misrepresentations to the world about the seriousness and nature of the novel coronavirus,” Mr. Smith said.

“Knowing full well that they had a deadly, and highly contagious disease on their hands, as late as mid-January China’s communist leaders told the WHO that there was no need for any precautions, as everything was under control. Fact is, it wasn’t,” he said.

China has denied any cover-up in reporting the initial information of the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in December last year.

“China was the first country to report the COVID-19 to the World Health Organisation (WHO), (and) that doesn’t mean the virus originated from Wuhan,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday.

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