Missouri attorney general sues China for 'campaign of deceit' around COVID outbreak

The epidemic started in Wuhan, China, but has since infected millions worldwide.

"During the critical weeks of the initial outbreak, 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," according to a copy of the lawsuit.

The Chinese government has not yet responded to the lawsuit. However, the government did deny a story from The Associated Press, which claimed that officials there did not warn the public of the pandemic for six key days, and said that the government immediately reported the outbreak to the World Health Organization.

“Those accusing China of lacking transparency and openness are unfair,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the Associated Press when asked about the AP story. The National Health Commission, which is named in the Missouri lawsuit as a defendant, also told the Associated Press that China published information on the outbreak in an “open, transparent, responsible and timely manner" and in accordance with “important instructions” issued by President Xi Jinping.

The coronavirus epidemic started in Wuhan, China, though the exact date of when the first case was detected is not exactly clear. While some records indicate the first case occurred in December, ABC News learned that U.S. intelligence officials were warned of a contagion sweeping through the Wuhan region as far back as late November, according to four sources briefed on the secret reporting.

Yet the virus has since spread to every continent in the world except Antarctica. There are at least 2.5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, across the globe and at least 171,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In Missouri, there are at least 5,807 confirmed cases and 177 deaths, according to the state's Department of Health and Senior Services.

Schmitt is seeking the recovery for "the enormous loss of life, human suffering, and economic turmoil experienced by all."

Under the pandemic, the majority of the states in the U.S., including Missouri, have adopted some form of a lockdown, meaning citizens are not meant to leave their homes except for essential needs.

Unlike some other states, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has allowed nonessential businesses to stay open so long as they comply with the social distancing requirements, which mandates that no more than 10 individuals can occupy a single space.

"The COVID-19 outbreak has caused hardship in Missouri and across the globe -- death, isolation from sick and dying loved ones, massive unemployment, economic dislocation, uncertainty, and trillions of dollars of economic losses," according to a statement from Schmitt's office. "China should be held legally responsible."

Schmitt's office also outlined what they described as key factual allegations. Those allegations include the Chinese government denying the risk of human-to-human transmission, silencing whistleblowers, failing to contain the outbreak, and hoarding personal protective equipment.

What to know about Coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: Coronavirus map
  • ABC News' Cheryl Gendron contributed to this report.

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