- - Monday, March 23, 2020

While the world is in the midst of this coronavirus outbreak, few are talking about accountability, other than some Democrats trying to blame President Trump. There isn’t even a consensus on what to call it. 

Early on, CNN and NBC referred to it as “China Flu” or “Wuhan Flu,” until someone warned this could be a racial slur. In horror, those news networks realized they had walked into their own identity politics trap and had been “hoisted by their own petard.”

So, those same reporters brazenly began calling Mr. Trump a racist for repeating the same terminology — as Fox News host Tucker Carlson has since reminded them. 

The Chinese government’s view is that, although the flu virus may have started in Wuhan, this doesn’t mean it was “made in China.” This was then ramped up by a surprisingly undiplomatic claim from within the Chinese foreign ministry that the virus was created by the U.S. Army. 

In contrast, some very brave scientists at the South China University of Technology claimed it escaped from a disease research laboratory in Wuhan city after one of the workers there got infected. 

But there could be an altogether different reason for China wanting to distance itself from owning the virus.

In America, BP was forced to pay around $65 billion in compensation after it was found guilty of negligence for the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010. That resulted in huge amounts of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, claimed 11 lives, ruined livelihoods and the environment.

Volkswagen has already paid around $30 billion around the world for cheating on emissions tests and that figure is set to grow substantially due to claims now being heard in Germany.

So, will China ever be held responsible for withholding information about the onset of the COVID-19 virus?

On Dec. 30, it reprimanded a brave young doctor for merely sharing his concerns online with his professional colleagues.

Chinese officials accused Dr. Li Wenliang of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order.” He was forced to issue a statement denouncing his warning as “an unfounded and illegal rumour.” Soon afterwards, the 34-year-old husband and father tragically died after being infected by his “rumor.”

Dr. Li made the ultimate sacrifice while helping others. He embodied the very best of Chinese character, unlike the officials who tried to silence him.

That cover-up lasted from December through to early January and maybe it began even earlier. This could make the Chinese Communist Party open to negligence claims on a scale that dwarfs the corporate cases mentioned above. 

The rate of infections and deaths around the world are now surely much higher than if it hadn’t initially blocked preventive measures. The resulting costs will run into trillions of dollars and no-one knows when it will end.

Trying to bring a claim would not be easy as no nation has ever been held responsible for the outbreak of a disease, unless it was done intentionally. One argument China could use in its defense is that, even with earlier intervention, COVID-19 may still have spread around the world at some future point. 

And, it is easier to sue a corporation than a country, but not impossible: 

Examples include war reparations that are paid by defeated nations after acts of aggression; the numerous cases over alleged climate-change damages; and the U.K. being challenged at the World Trade Organization by 15 other nations for compensation due to delaying its Brexit process.

Many claims have been successfully made by groups against the United States, such as the Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, and by victims of forced sterilization. Reparations are currently being sought for descendants of African-American slaves.

So, however difficult it may be, should China one day be made to take responsibility for any negligence over COVID-19?

It is not that the communist state doesn’t have the resources, and the way that numerous national economies are currently hemorrhaging money, those governments may be left with little option than to ask China for compensation, rather than loans.

However, it was not alone in initially playing down the threat of the virus. On March 4, a World Health Organization (WHO) official, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, stated, “We are eight weeks into this outbreak.” Does the WHO really believe it only began on Jan. 8?

The WHO has also consistently advised against travel or trade restrictions on China, and member countries are supposed to heed that guidance.

Singapore defied it early on. Italy and America followed later, but by then Chinese New Year had happened, so many Chinese would have already returned from visiting their homeland.

Taiwan, which isn’t in the WHO, enforced its flight ban days before that major holiday, whereas the U.K. is still applying those WHO travel rules and allowing flights in from China, Italy and Iran.

• Andrew Davies is a U.K.-based video producer and scriptwriter.

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