The US state of Missouri has filed a lawsuit against the People's Republic of China, its ruling Communist Party and several state-run institutions, claiming that Beijing concealed the outbreak at the start, denied the fact of human-to-human transmission and "did little to contain the spread".
"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," Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a statement.
Schmitt argued that China "should be held accountable" for the COVID-19 pandemic, noting in the lawsuit "the immense negative impact of COVID-19" on residents of his state as well as all world communities. The lawsuit seeks relief on one count of public nuisance, one count of abnormally dangerous activities, and two counts of breach of duty.
"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 (“PPE”)—thus causing a global pandemic that was unnecessary and preventable", the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit alleges, among other accusations, that the coronavirus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology that had been allegedly studying the disease as a commercial activity, citing media reports with unnamed sources.
The case also claims that "on information and belief", part of the Beijing coverup "involved misleading the World Health Organization (WHO)" on the disease, inducing the agency to "deny or downplay" the risk of human-to-human transmission", and referencing media reports that do not name sources.
Criticism Against China and WHO Amid Pandemic
The US has repeatedly accused China and WHO of coronavirus data concealment and a "failure" to address the deadly outbreak on its early stages, or provide information on how dangerous the disease is. Amid the accusations, US President Donald Trump cut funding for WHO, characterizing the global health agency as being "China-biased" during the pandemic, and accusing the group of responsibility for "so much death [...] caused by their mistakes".
WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, responded to the funding cut, saying that he "regrets" the decision, and noting that, with he world in the middle of a pandemic, the timing could not be worse.
"The United States of America has been a long-standing and generous friend to WHO and we hope it will continue to be so. We regret the decision of the president of the United States to order a hold on funding to the World Health Organization", Ghebreyesus said.
WHO released warnings on human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 as early as 14 January, despite claims in the Missouri lawsuit that there were no such warnings.
China has refuted the allegations as well, slamming efforts to politicize and scapegoat Beijing for the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The measures taken by the Chinese government have been decisive, timely, and strong. We have worked, to the best of our capabilities, to protect the lives and welfare of the Chinese people […] while buying the world valuable time to stem the pandemic. China has done its best to be open, transparent, and accountable", China foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in the press briefing.
Despite the continued flow of accusations, China is one of the first countries in the world to slowly reduce the amount of anti-coronavirus restrictions, after claiming that over 90 percent of infected patients in the country have recovered. While easing its quarantine, China has provided aid to other countries, supplying medical equipment, humanitarian aid and medical specialists.