James Kraska, chair and Charles H. Stockton professor of international maritime law in the Stockton Center for International Law at the U.S. Naval War College, writes in War on the Rocks that China is legally responsible for the coronavirus pandemic:

As the novel coronavirus incubated in Wuhan from mid-December to mid-January, the Chinese state made evidently intentional misrepresentations to its people concerning the outbreak, providing false assurances to the population preceding the approach of the Lunar New Year celebrations on Jan. 25. In mid-December, an outbreak of a novel influenza-like illness was traced to workers and customers of the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which contained exotic and wild animal species. On Dec. 26, multiple Chinese news outlets released reports of an anonymous laboratory technician who made a startling discovery: The sickness was caused by a new coronavirus that was 87 percent similar to SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, sounded the alarm in an online chatroom on Dec. 30. That night, Wuhan public health authorities solicited information on the emergence of a “pneumonia of unclear cause,” but omitted Li’s discussion about SARS or a novel coronavirus. Li and other medical professionals who tried to disclose the emergence of the virus were suppressed or jailed by the regime. On Jan. 1, the state-run Xinhua News Agency warned, “The police call on all netizens to not fabricate rumors, not spread rumors, not believe rumors.” Four days after Li’s chatroom discussion, officers of the Public Security Bureau forced him to sign a letter acknowledging he had made “false comments,” and that his revelations had “severely disturbed the social order.” Li, who has become something of an underground folk hero in China against chicanery by state officials, ultimately died of the disease. China silenced other doctors raising the alarm, minimizing the danger to the public even as they were bewildered and overwhelmed. State media suppressed information about the virus. Although authorities closed the Wuhan “wet market” at the epicenter of the contagion, they did not take further steps to stop the wildlife trade. By Jan. 22, when the virus had killed just 17 yet had infected more than 570 people, China tightened its suppression of information about the coronavirus that it deemed “alarming,” and further censored criticism of its malfeasance. “Even as cases climbed, officials declared repeatedly that there had likely been no more infections.”

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