Missouri is suing the Chinese government and other top institutions for the role they played in the coronavirus pandemic and the effects it has had on the state, accusing the country of covering up information, silencing whistleblowers and doing little to stop the spread of the disease, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Tuesday.
At least 6,105 people have been confirmed to have the virus in Missouri and at least 229 have died, according to numbers from Johns Hopkins University.
Schmitt, in his official role as attorney general of Missouri, filed the civil lawsuit in federal court in the eastern district of Missouri.
The lawsuit, the first of its kind, claims “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.”
Legal experts have said the lawsuit faces an uphill battle because China is protected by sovereign immunity. CNN is reaching out to the Chinese government for comment.
Missouri’s lawsuit alleges that while the Chinese medical community had indications of human-to-human transmission of the virus, they did not inform the World Health Organization when they first reported the outbreak.
It also alleges Chinese leaders did little to curb the spread of the virus, still allowing thousands of people to travel to and out of Wuhan.
“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,” it says. “Defendants allowed these massive public gatherings and a massive exodus from Wuhan despite knowing the risks of COVID-19, including the risk of human-to-human transmission.”
The filing also outlines how officials initially cracked down on medical professionals who posted information about the virus, including Dr Li Wenliang, who was accused of rumor-mongering by the Wuhan police after sharing information about a new illness with his medical school alumni group. Wenliang later died of the virus.
The state also alleges China hoarded PPE while concealing the outbreak and that the small amounts they have released have been “faulty.”
Those, among other actions taken by Chinese officials, had a massive toll on human life and health and has led to “enormous” economic disruptions across the world, according to the lawsuit.
“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,” the suit claims. “Responding to the pandemic has required shutting down businesses, disrupting ordinary production and trade, and dislocating workers.”