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A number of California-based small businesses have sued China, its Health Commission and the city of Wuhan for $8 trillion accusing its government of withholding information pertaining to the existence and spread of the novel coronavirus despite knowing about the virus as early as the end of last year, court papers show.
The coalition of small businesses argues China and the other parties named as defendants were aware of the threats surrounding the new virus as early as November 2019, but neglected their responsibility to notify the World Health Organization and other countries and waited to do so until months later. TMZ was first to report the suit.
"Shortly after November 27, 2019, the [People's Republic of China] and the other Defendants received credible scientific evidence confirming that this 'new' virus, which first emerged in Wuhan, China was very contagious, deadly and capable of causing a pandemic," the 27-page complaint states. "Instead of disclosing the evidence... [they] engaged in a campaign of misinformation and lies."
The WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on Feb. 11, 2020.
The court papers also allege a tainted bat – which is believed to have been purchased at a Chinese market and ultimately caused the COVID-19 pandemic – was possibly infected at a bio-weapons laboratory not far from Wuhan, the TMZ report states.
The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status.
A similar lawsuit was filed at the end of March on behalf of five Las Vegas businesses.
That suit claims China’s government should have shared more information about the virus but intimidated doctors, scientists, journalists and lawyers while allowing the COVID-19 respiratory illness to spread, attorney Robert Eglet told reporters at the time.
Eglet said the five are representative of tens of millions of other businesses that could become plaintiffs because they have also suffered economically and whose damages could end up in the trillions of dollars.
China’s government was reckless and negligent as the virus spread, the attorney said.
“If they had been transparent with the world this could have been stopped in Wuhan,” Eglet said, referring to the Chinese city identified as the original epicenter of the outbreak. “The world could have come together and gotten the right scientists to Wuhan and stopped it right there.”
Meanwhile, the lock on Wuhan was lifted Wednesday, more than 70 days after first taking effect as a result of COVID-19.
At least 432,438 confirmed COVID-19 cases had been reported in the U.S. as of early Thursday, data shows. More than 3,300 people reportedly died in China.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.