Missouri lawsuit blames China for pandemic

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The state of Missouri filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Chinese government over the coronavirus, alleging that nation’s officials are to blame for the global pandemic.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, filed the suit in federal court. It alleges that Chinese officials are “responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses they inflicted on the world, including Missourians.” Schmitt said in a written statement that the Chinese government had lied about the dangers of the virus and didn’t do enough to slow its spread.

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 Chimène 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.

On Wednesday, China reacted by calling the lawsuit “very absurd.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the legal action had “no factual and legal basis at all” and repeated China’s defense of its response to the outbreak.

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 number of Missouri deaths statewide rose by 16 Tuesday to 215, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The number of cases rose by 156 to 5,963.

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