Missouri’s AG files lawsuit against China for concealing coronavirus early on.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has filed a lawsuit against China, three government ministries, two local governments, two laboratories and the Chinese Communist Party in U.S. District Court alleging the defendants are essentially responsible for the spread of the coronavirus. They all “engaged in misrepresentations, concealment, and retaliation to conceal the gravity and seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak from the rest of the world,” according to Schmitt. “There’s been untold suffering across the globe, including here in Missouri, and we want to hold them accountable for that.”
China is protected by sovereign immunity, however, and the lawsuit is based on a far-fetched interpretation of a federal law. “A sovereign is not supposed to sue a sovereign, and that’s what’s going on here,” says Lea Brilmayer, professor of international law at Yale Law School. “This is a last-ditch effort to do something to respond to the political situation.”
Schmitt believes there’s an exception to this immunity when it comes to commercial activity and alleges that labs and hospitals are “commercial ventures.” He’s also calling the Chinese Communist Party a “nonstate actor.”
Earlier this month, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley also presented legislation designed to remove China’s sovereign immunity so it can be held responsible for allowing the virus to spread. There have been more than 6,000 cases of the coronavirus in Missouri and at least 229 have died, according to the latest numbers.
“In mid-January, on or around January 16, despite knowing the risks of doing so, Wuhan leaders hosted a potluck dinner for 40,000 residents, increasing the potential spread of the virus,” the lawsuit reads. “Defendants allowed these massive public gatherings and massive exodus from Wuhan despite knowing the risks of COVID-19, including the risk of human-to-human transmission.”
It continues, “Before the pandemic, Missouri had one of its lowest unemployment rates of the past decade, but on information and belief, Missouri’s unemployment rate is now the highest it has been since the Great Depression. Responding to the pandemic has required shutting down businesses, disrupting ordinary production and trade, and dislocating workers.”
On December 30, 34-year-old doctor Li Wenliang, of Wuhan, China, told his medical school alumni group on the Chinese messaging app WeChat that “seven patients from a local seafood market had been diagnosed with a SARS-like illness and quarantined in his hospital.” Wenliang said his friends should warn their loved ones “privately” that they may be dealing with the coronavirus. Just a few hours later, screenshots of his messages went viral.
Soon after the public posting, the doctor was accused of “rumor-mongering” by the Wuhan police, and the doctor would later contract the virus and perish. Missouri’s lawsuit includes these details, alleging Chinese officials tried to silence medical professionals attempting to blow the whistle early on.
The same day Wenliang’s message began to circulate, an emergency notice was issued by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, informing the area’s medical institutions that a series of patients from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market had an “unknown pneumonia.” However, attached to this notice, a warning read: “Any organizations or individuals are not allowed to release treatment information to the public without authorization.” It is unclear whether the spread of the coronavirus could have been contained had officials reacted differently and allowed word to spread.