GOP Sens. Look To Hold China Liable For COVID-19 Outbreak

By Sarah Martinson
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Law360 (April 14, 2020, 7:42 PM EDT) -- Republican senators unveiled two bills on Tuesday seeking to allow Chinese officials to be sued and sanctioned for withholding information about the novel coronavirus and stopping whistleblowers from releasing that intel, saying such actions have fueled the pandemic.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced the so-called Justice for Victims of COVID-19 Act that would take away China’s sovereign immunity and permit U.S. citizens to sue the nation for suppressing information about the virus.

The proposed bill would also establish a task force within the U.S. Department of State that would investigate how Beijing managed the outbreak and seek payment from the Chinese government for its action, according to a statement.

"We need an international investigation to learn the full extent of the damage the [Chinese Communist Party] has inflicted on the world, and then we need to empower Americans and other victims around the world to recover damages," Hawley said in a statement.

The same day, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proposed a bill dubbed the Ending Chinese Medical Censorship and Cover Ups Act of 2020 that would allow for the country's officials to be sanctioned for censoring citizens who try to release medical information about new diseases.

Cruz said in a statement that the Chinese government’s censorship of medical information has led to “catastrophic” consequences.

“Had the Chinese government acted responsibly, the coronavirus outbreak might not have turned into a global pandemic, and hundreds of thousands of lives, millions of jobs and trillions of dollars could have been saved,” Cruz said.

The coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China, in 2019 before spreading to Italy, France, Iran and the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

The global death toll from the virus has exceeded 122,900 cases, and the U.S. death toll has climbed to more than 25,300, according to the University of Virginia’s database on Tuesday evening.

In response to the economic impact the pandemic has had on the U.S., President Donald Trump in March signed a $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at supporting jobless Americans, boosting business activity and providing resources for health care workers struggling to treat COVID-19.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to pass another $250 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses last week, but the move was blocked by Democrats on Thursday.

--Additional reporting Stephen Cooper. Editing by Philip Shea.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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