Protesters hold signs encouraging people to demand that businesses be allowed to open up, and people be allowed to work at the Country Club Plaza on April 20, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Protesters hold signs encouraging people to demand that businesses be allowed to open up, and people be allowed to work at the Country Club Plaza on April 20, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo: Getty Images

The state of Missouri filed a lawsuit against China in U.S. federal court on Tuesday, claiming the Chinese government caused the global coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit is unlikely to succeed and is most likely a political stunt by Missouri’s Republican Attorney General to distract from the U.S. federal government’s abysmal response to the global health crisis.

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The new lawsuit, which was posted online by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, alleges the Chinese government is, “responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses they inflicted on the world, including Missourians, and they should be held accountable.”

The lawsuit claims the Chinese Communist Party is not protected by sovereign immunity, a legal concept that largely shields foreign governments from being sued in U.S. courts. Without sovereign immunity, foreign governments would be forced to defend against any number of silly lawsuits brought by average U.S. citizens anytime Americans were unhappy with another country’s products, politics, or policies.

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“Months were lost—most of December, all of January, where they were aware of the human-to-human transmission,” Schmitt told local TV station KSDK on Tuesday, adding that China was, “destroying the evidence, silencing critics, silencing whistleblowers.”

Schmitt alleges that China was also “hoarding PPE,” the personal protective equipment for health care workers that’s been in short supply around the world. Schmitt appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show last night and neither the Attorney General nor Carlson mentioned President Donald Trump even once.

At least 6,142 cases of covid-19 have been identified in Missouri, with 229 deaths. The U.S. has identified 825,306 cases and 45,075 deaths, the most in the world by far, as of early Wednesday morning.

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While it’s true that China was silencing whistleblowers, most notably doctor Li Wenliang who tried to warn fellow doctors before dying of the illness in early February, it was clear to world by the end of January that this disease was a big deal and that it could spread globally very soon. Any reader of Gizmodo could have told you that, in fact. But allies of President Trump prefer to blame China rather than the Trump regime’s own incompetence.

U.S. intelligence agencies, which regularly brief the president, had information about the virus in December and were reportedly giving Trump classified briefings on the threat in January and February, according to the Washington Post.

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“Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were—they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it,” one unnamed government official told the Post. “The system was blinking red.”

There were also at least a dozen Americans working at the World Health Organization’s Geneva headquarters in January, many of whom were staff members with the CDC, providing realtime updates to the Trump regime about the coronavirus spread. But Trump denied that the virus was a problem and wasted the months of February and March, which could have been used to prepare, as many other countries did. Faulty tests, distributed by the CDC in early February, also put the U.S. at a disadvantage in identifying the scale of the problem and being able to contain it, most health experts agree.

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The virus originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and the city was placed on lockdown early on January 23. Two other nearby cities were placed on lockdown that same day, effectively stopping 20 million people from traveling, the largest lockdown in history to that point. The virus was identified in Thailand on January 13 and in Japan on January 16, as Gizmodo wrote about at the time.

Disney theme parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong were also closed the last week of January, which should have made it abundantly clear to anyone who was paying attention that this was serious. When Disneyland closes, you know it’s a big deal.

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On January 16, the World Health Organization said that it didn’t yet see evidence of human-to-human transmission of the disease but it was still warning on Twitter about the “possibility of limited human-to-human transmission.” And by January 21, we here at Gizmodo wrote a story titled, “New Virus Kills Sixth Person After Human-to-Human Transmission Confirmed.”

In January, doctors in Asia were already talking about the importance of wearing a mask when out in public, something that U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams was saying as late as February 29 did nothing to prevent the spread of the disease.

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“Please take care if you are ill,” Dr. Gabriel Leung, Founding Director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, said on January 21 in a video press conference that Gizmodo reported on. “If you are going to a crowded place, put on a mask even if you are not ill because others may be, even if they have cough etiquette or sneeze etiquette, they may still get in touch with you.”

It’s certainly true that the Chinese government engaged in a coverup during the earliest stages of the crisis, as any authoritarian government would be expected to do. But the U.S. has also engaged in activities that would be viewed by Americans as a “coverup” if they were happening in any other part of the world.

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For instance, the world was shocked when it saw drone footage of the mass burials that have taken place at Hart Island in New York. But police in New York have actively sought to stop journalists from being able to photograph the activity there, ever since the footage went viral.

From a report in the Gothamist:

A few minutes after he launched a small drone to survey what was happening on Hart Island, [journalist] Steinmetz said that a group of plainclothes NYPD officers emerged from an unmarked van, and asked him to bring the drone back. He said they initially tried to confiscate the few photos he took, along with his phone, which acts as the drone’s remote control. Instead, they confiscated his $1,500 drone and issued him a misdemeanor summons for “avigation,” a law that dates back to 1948 that prohibits aircraft—including drones—from taking off or landing anywhere in New York City that isn’t an airport.

[...]

Mickey Osterreicher, the general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said Steinmetz is the second journalist whose drone was seized trying to photograph Hart Island since the pandemic began. (AP photographer John Minchillo was apparently able to take a few drone pictures of mass burials on Hart Island last week without getting caught.)

Doctors and nurses in the U.S. have also been fired for trying to secure PPE and warning about unsafe practices in American hospitals. Health care workers in Seattle, Oklahoma, Detroit, Chicago, New Jersey, Oakland, and Muskegon, Michigan all claim they’ve been fired for raising alarms and speaking to the media. Plenty of others have been threatened by hospital management if they blow the whistle on their unsafe working conditions. If this was happening in any other country in the world it would rightly be called a conspiracy to obscure the real scale of the problem. Health care professionals simply don’t have the tools to do their job safely, and much of that responsibility rests at the feet of President Trump.

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Trump’s handling of the crisis has been so bad that some states have formed alliances to coordinate their responses to the pandemic, something that would typically be done by the federal government. But Trump has shown no real interest in sending a consistent message about how states should be handling the public health problem. Instead, he uses his coronavirus press briefings each day to pick fights with members of the media and deny personal responsibility.

“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump famously said on March 13 in the Rose Garden of the White House when asked about the federal government’s mishandling of the crisis. The U.S. government was still way behind on getting states the tests that they needed, a problem that persists to this day.

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When another reporter followed up on March 13, Trump doubled down on the idea that he wasn’t to blame for things like a lack of coronavirus tests and a failure to secure PPE and other vital medical supplies, opting to make it sound like the media was the real problem in all of this.

“Well, I just think it’s a nasty question because what we’ve done is—and Tony [Fauci] has said numerous times that we’ve saved thousands of lives because of the quick closing,” Trump said. “And when you say me, I didn’t do it. We have a group of people.”

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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