The state of Missouri filed a lawsuit on April 21 against the Chinese government over the coronavirus, alleging that nation’s officials are to blame for the global pandemic.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court by the state’s top lawyer, alleges Chinese officials are “responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses they inflicted on the world, including Missourians.”
Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt in a written statement said the Chinese government lied about the dangers of the virus and didn’t do enough to slow its spread.
“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,” he said. “They must be held accountable for their actions.”
It’s unclear whether the lawsuit will have much, if any, impact. U.S. law generally prohibits lawsuits against other countries with few exceptions, said Chimene Keitner, an international law professor at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
“The legal problem is, it’s just not possible,” said Keitner, who recently wrote a blog titled “Don’t Bother Suing China for Coronavirus.”
Missouri Democratic Party Executive Director Lauren Gepford called the lawsuit a “stunt” by a Republican attorney general who is up for re-election this year.
The number of Missouri deaths statewide rose by 16 on April 21 to 215, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The number of cases rose by 156 to 5,963.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the legal action has “no factual and legal basis at all” and repeated China’s defense of its response to the outbreak, which has largely subsided in the country where it was first detected.
The ministry and other Chinese government departments have strenuously denied accusations that officials delayed reporting on the extent of the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, despite reports that worries over political stability were placed above public health concerns. Medical staff who reported the outbreak were silenced under threat of legal retaliation and Wuhan went several days without reporting cases during the holding of an annual provincial government conference.
“This so-called lawsuit is very absurd and has no factual and legal basis at all,” Geng said at a daily briefing. Since the outbreak began, China has proceeded in an “open, transparent, and responsible manner” and the U.S. government should “dismiss such vexatious litigation,” he said.
The lawsuit alleges that Chinese officials are to blame for the pandemic that has sickened around 2.5 million worldwide, thrown tens of millions out of work and devastated local economies, including in China.
Missouri’s action is likely to be largely symbolic, however, since lawsuits against other countries typically don’t go anywhere because U.S. law generally prohibits them.
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