Public nuisance, negligence and the hoarding of personal protective equipment (PPE) are just a few of the allegations brought against China in a lawsuit filed by the Missouri state government over the former’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, Missouri became the first U.S. state to sue the Chinese government over its handling of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The state alleges that the country’s mishandling of information brought devastating economic losses to Missouri, Reuters reports.
In official court documents, Chinese authorities are accused of an “appalling campaign of deceit, concealment, misfeasance and inaction” leading to “the enormous loss of life, human suffering and economic turmoil.”
Per U.S. federal law, states aren’t able to sue entire countries, aside from exceptional circumstances. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 established limitations as to whether a foreign sovereign nation could be sued in American courts.
However, because Missouri’s case argues that this particular incident stemmed from protecting “commercial” interests, it has a legal right to sue.
“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 case document reads.
It goes on to accuse the defendant — the Chinese government — of being “responsible for the enormous death, suffering and economic losses they inflicted on the world, including Missourians, and they should be held accountable.”
The lawsuit cites a New York Times article, which documents China’s alleged hoarding of PPE, saying China “claimed mask factory output for itself.”
Missouri’s lawsuit goes on to cite a piece in the Washington Post that says White House officials believe China’s actions in regard to PPE were a “deliberate attempt by China to corner the market as it concealed and downplayed the danger posed by the outbreak.”
The case also theorizes that the virus could have originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, a theory popularized by the U.S. right, the Independent reports. Some believe the virus escaped via an infected worker, or that it was created there as a biological weapon.
No evidence currently exists to support either claim.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also said China’s response was not under the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, adding that it had provided updates on the outbreak to the United States since Jan. 3.
“Such abuse of litigation is not conducive to the epidemic response at home in the United States and also runs counter to international co-operation,” Geng told a daily briefing on Wednesday, speaking about Missouri’s move.
“What the United States should do is refute and reject such abuse of litigation.”
China is already facing similar lawsuits filed in U.S. courts on behalf of U.S. business owners.
International law experts told Reuters that efforts in U.S. courts to hold China liable for the virus would probably fail.
As of Wednesday morning, Missouri had more than 6,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 220 deaths.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
— With files from Reuters