Should China be financially liable for COVID-related damages?


Fact Box

  • The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31, 2019, in Wuhan, China. 
  • According to the US Department of State, viral lab leaks have occurred in the past, ‘Accidental infections in labs have caused several previous virus outbreaks in China and elsewhere, including a 2004 SARS outbreak in Beijing that infected nine people, killing one.”
  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national employment rate fell by 8.8 million, unemployment rising to 13%, over 2020. Employment was up in 2019, with the national unemployment rate at its lowest since 1969, sitting at a tight 3.5%. 
  • The World Economic forum reported in May 2021 that since January 2020, 34% of small businesses are closed. Over ninety-nine percent of American small businesses are classified as small businesses and employed 43.7% of the national workforce prior to the pandemic. 
  • The JAMA Network analyzed the 2020 out-of-pocket spending for COVID-related hospitalizations in the US, finding that those with private insurance paid between $25,339-42,200 in hospital bills. Medicare patients paid between $17,480-21,501.

Tyler (No)

Lawsuits targeting China for being financially liable for COVID-19 related damages are completely baseless and demonstrate a lack of accountability around the globe. While China may hold some responsibility for the fact that it was released in the first place, that holds little correlation to how nations individually mishandled the spread of the virus.

The National Institute of Health played a part in this by lifting its ban on gain-of-function research. Although the funding to research labs in China was strictly intended to understand the virus better, the decision to fund those studies in the first place is something the United States should hold itself accountable for. If they never took place, there is a great possibility that the virus would not be circulating.

Other nations' shortcomings when handling the spread of the virus should not be placed on China. It is not China's responsibility to ensure that other countries have systems to combat a pandemic. The 1918 flu pandemic affected nearly a third of the world, with around 50 million total deaths. Although Spain actually had nothing to do with the origination of the 'Spanish Flu,' no other country was held accountable for this mass outbreak either.

Plus, continually developing COVID strains seem to top each other in transmissibility and infection rate, as Omicron affected seven people for every one infected person. China cannot possibly bear the financial and moral blame for the tens of millions of people affected by this virus. 


Samir (Yes)

Reports suggest that Chinese scientists and private laboratories knew of the coronavirus but said nothing for weeks due to political pressure and state censorship. Had China acted three weeks earlier (since Dec 31, 2019) with social distancing and quarantine measures in Wuhan, it could have dropped the caseload by 95%. Instead, Chinese officials initially downplayed scientists' COVID concerns and covered things up.

It's not like China was a developing country that couldn't have afforded a lockdown. Save for China, the rest of the world's top seven economies suffered a negative GDP growth rate in the 3rd quarter of 2020, brought by the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Even then, it took months, specifically March 2020, for China and the WHO to publicly acknowledge a pandemic-level disease. The Chinese authorities even delayed an independent probe into the virus's origins. International travel now means more medical tests, overpriced airfares, and long waiting times. And while the aviation sector may still be damaged from the pandemic, it's the people who suffer the most. COVID has also resulted in continual school shutdowns worldwide, putting much pressure on working parents, and when children do attend school, they are muzzled by masks to “protect them” from a disease that hardly affects them. Ironically, almost two years since the outbreak, China is all set to host the Winter Olympics.

Likewise, domestic violence cases have increased manifold, given how strict things were in the early days of the outbreak. While international law does not allow for punitive action against the spread of infectious diseases, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in generation-shaking repercussions. China should answer for these damages.

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