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Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington in September. Photo: AP

Coronavirus: Missouri attorney general sues China over pandemic, blaming it for ‘trillions of dollars of losses’

  • Attorney General Eric Schmitt says the Chinese government lied to the world about the contagion and silenced whistle-blowers
  • Lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for deaths in the state and the economy impact caused by Covid-19

Missouri’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government on Tuesday, claiming that Beijing’s denials and cover-ups led to the coronavirus becoming a pandemic that has caused “trillions of dollars” in economic damage.

The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for Eastern Missouri, alleges that Chinese officials denied the risk of human-to-human transmission, silenced whistle-blowers and failed to contain the outbreak, allowing the contagion to spread globally.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, said he was seeking “recovery for the enormous loss of life, human suffering and economic turmoil experienced by all Missourians from the Covid-19 pandemic that has disrupted the entire world”.

“An appalling campaign of deceit, concealment, misfeasance and inaction by Chinese authorities unleashed this pandemic,” said the complaint, which did not specify the amount of damages sought.

Chinese health officials had evidence of human-to-human transmission in “late December” but denied that this was the case until January 20, the suit alleges.

Other defendants in the lawsuit include China’s National Health Commission, the municipal government of Wuhan, where the health crisis began, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is subject to speculation that it could be the source of the contagion.

Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was seeking access to the virology lab to conduct its own investigation into the claims, fuelled by the laboratory’s proximity to a Wuhan seafood and wildlife market associated with many of the earliest cases.

US seeks access to virology lab in Wuhan

Covid-19 deaths worldwide have risen to more than 174,000, and there are 2.5 million confirmed cases, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University’s Centre for Systems Science and Engineering.

The number of deaths in Missouri rose by 16 on Tuesday to 215.

Along with the human toll, the lawsuit noted the economic problems related to the coronavirus, including a record number of jobless claims and the effects on the state budget, currently and in the future.

The suit also alleges that Chinese officials hoarded personal protective medical equipment (PPE) and permitted only defective PPE to be exported.

“The little PPE that China has released has drawn complaints from governments and hospitals across the world for being faulty, raising the prospect that it is keeping quality materials for itself while shipping defective equipment elsewhere,” the lawsuit said.

Missouri’s lawsuit follows comments by US President Donald Trump on Saturday that Beijing should face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the coronavirus’ spread.

“If it was a mistake, a mistake is a mistake … but if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, I mean, then sure there should be consequences,” Trump said in a daily White House press briefing. He did not specify what actions the US might take.

Two congressmen want Americans to sue China over virus

Two Republican members of Congress introduced legislation on Friday that would give Americans and governments across the US the ability to sue the government of China for the coronavirus’ spread.

The proposal by Representatives Ron Wright of Texas and Chris Smith of New Jersey would essentially strip China – and any other country that “intentionally misleads” the World Health Organisation – of sovereign immunity.

A statement by the two said lawsuits against China would hold it “accountable for the deaths, pain and suffering – as well as the economic crisis – resulting from its intentional misrepresentations” to the WHO, which allowed the virus to “spread viciously throughout the US and around the globe”.

Missouri is the first state to file such a suit.

Additional reporting by Tribune News Service

As local Covid-19 cases continue to decline, Hong Kong's experience in battling the pandemic holds many lessons for the rest of the world. Join our free webinar, "Hong Kong vs. Covid-19: Lessons Learned and Next Steps", on April 22 (Wed) 10am HKT, to hear from one of the city's top medical professionals about the latest on Covid-19 and what to expect for the city in the coming weeks and months.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing sued in US for allegedly trying to cover up virus