Attempts by the Chinese government to conceal the discovery and rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in the beginning stages of its swift growth into a worldwide pandemic, have many questioning China's motives. Societies and nations are beginning to ask if China may be legally responsible for their failure to take immediate action in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus and for their failure to inform other nations of the dangerous virus.
Following the timeline of coronavirus related events, casts China's role in a negative light. The first patient in whom the virus was recognized as a SARS virus, was diagnosed in China on December 10, 2019. Some reports even claim that the first coronavirus case in China was observed on November 17th, but gag orders silenced doctors. On December 27th, 2019 authorities were alerted of the virus and soon thereafter two doctors who attempted to inform the public of the virus faced punishment by the Chinese government. At this time the virus was said not to transmit from human-to-human, despite the fact that spread of the disease was clearly evident and reaching other countries already. On January 18, 2020, China celebrated the Lunar New Year in Wuhan with no restrictions. Tens of thousands crowded together in celebration, spreading the virus uncontrollably. Celebrations involving large groups of people continued for days after the Lunar New Year. Finally, as the number of victims grew immensely following the Lunar New Year, Wuhan and a few other cities were locked down.
Studies on the spread of the virus claim that, had China taken action 3 weeks prior, the spread of the novel coronavirus would have been decreased by 95%. From this statistic, it would seem that China’s intentional hesitation is the cause of thousands upon thousands of deaths in their own country and worldwide. But is it possible to hold an entire country legally accountable? According to Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney based in Israel, countries and governments have what is known as “sovereign immunity” meaning that they “cannot be brought to regular courts”. However, Darshan-Leitner told Fox News, “Cover-ups and deliberate acts to conceal a deadly medical crisis are not [among] the protected acts of a sovereign state or of responsible leaders”. Darshan-Leitner continued, " Clearly, China signed treaties and had a duty under international law to report the virus and not cover it up”. China should not be charged for creating the virus, but rather "for not sounding the international alarm and [for] trying to conceal it from the world."
Furthermore, Ivana Stradner - an expert of international law from the American Enterprise Institute - told Fox News that “The International Health Regulations (IHR) … require member states to notify the WHO of events that may constitute 'a public health emergency of international concern.” She went on to say that China’s failure to act “ ... constitutes a violation of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes the U.N. Security Council to take action to 'maintain or restore international peace and security.’”
David Matas, a member of the Canadian delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, states that China is also subject to the Biological Weapons Convention.
David Mattis informed that "The Convention states … that each state party to this Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to retain microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes. In my view, non-reporting is a form of retention in violation of the Convention,” he finished.
Whether or not China will be held legally accountable for their failure to take timely action to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus remains to be seen, but it is evident that their hesitation has been observed and, because of it, political tensions are on the rise.
Photo credit to Financial Times (www.ft.com).