Coronavirus disease 2019(COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2(SARS-CoV-2). The disease was first identified in December 2019 in the Wuhan city, the capital of China’s Hubei province, and has spread globally resulting in the ongoing 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic. The entire world is in the hands of this disease, as it has taken till now a lot of lives. The virus has infected more than 1,934,557 people and killed more than 120,438 as per data by the worldometer. The disease is believed to have originated from China’s famous ‘wet markets.’ The whole world is in a condition of suing China as to everyone’s belief China has made use of this biological weapon in order to capture the world economy. Everyone is outraged at this dangerous condition. There are many contradictory opinions regarding whether China can really be held liable or not for this pandemic situation.
Shortly after the epidemic began, Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and made the data available to researchers worldwide. In the result of research, it was seen that the number of COVID-19 cases have been increasing because of human to human transmission. To prevent the transmission of the virus, the world has almost come into a standstill. Effective lockdown has been imposed all over the world.
CAN CHINA REALLY BE HELD LIABLE?
The present most confusing question before the world is ‘Can China be brought before an international court over COVID pandemic?’ Opinions differ from person to person. According to me, it will be really a tough task to get an affirmative answer to this question. The court action would require significant international cooperation and willpower to implement. Obviously, everyone must be thinking, to avoid another pandemic, it must be done. But can we really make this possible?
POSSIBLE MEANS TO HELD CHINA LEGALLY ACCOUNTABLE AND THE MAIN HINDRANCES TO THESE
Instead of sharing information transparently with the international community, China opted to supress various data about the novel corona strain. These acts rendered it extremely difficult for the World Health Organization (WHO) and foreign governments to adequately prepare for this COVID infection. China truly did a falsification of data with the WHO. Article 6 of the IHR Regulations requires every party to notify the WHO within 24 hours of any event that poses the risk of an international public health emergency. Article 7 further compels such parties to share all data concerning the crisis with the WHO on a continuing basis. Article 11 requires the WHO to share such data, once verified, with other countries so that they can enact precautionary measures. But as per the world’s knowledge, China didn’t abide by these rules. So, it can be held into account. This is certainly an aspect of liability. Whatever china claims, it is of no doubt that coronavirus originated from its famous wet markets of Wuhan. A $20 trillion lawsuit has been filed against Chinese authorities in the US over coronavirus outbreak. The plaintiffs have sought $20 trillion, which is a bigger amount than China’s GDP, claiming coronavirus is the result of a biological weapon prepared by the Chinese authorities. They have accused China on the ground of conspiracy to cause injury and death of US citizens, negligence, wrongful death, and assault and battery. But I don’t think this can be of any effect. China may say coronavirus didn’t reach the foreign countries through Chinese products. And it’s very hard to prove that whether coronavirus transmitted through visiting Chinese citizens. So, the complaining states have to prove that these thousands and thousands of lives are being lost due to the COVID-19 which is of Chinese origin because they can argue that the deaths are caused due to other contributory factors until proven. China can argue on the ground that it disclosed information on December 31 itself, it was WHO who’s negligence in dealing with the information has resulted in the present pandemic. Equally, WHO can defend that China did misrepresent of information which was not fully transparent. There’s a principle known as the ‘transboundary harm principle’ which states that a State is under obligation not to cause harm or injuries across the border by its acts or omissions. But the principle is violated in this scenario. But China can’t be proved as a tortfeasor until it comes under the pressure of the international community and agrees to submit to the ICJ Jurisdiction. The US may approach the UNO Security Councils to impose sanctions against China but China being a permanent member of it will enjoy the ‘veto power.’ And we already know that china is refusing any discussion on coronavirus. In such a condition, what are the options left for us? There are certainly some options. We can interpret the part of China’s misrepresentation of data or under-reporting of the coronavirus threat more meticulously. Now the possible question comes, ‘Can China be found guilty for its possible under-reporting of COVID-19, and for allegedly hiding crucial information about its transmission? If yes, where?’ According to the International Health Regulations, 2005, the nation States should provide adequate information to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to prevent the spread of pandemics. It is alleged that China failed under its obligations in this regard. The complaining States can argue that China gave precedence to economic gains rather than doing things on a war footing or open basis, which could have possibly helped curb the virus and not become a pandemic that we are witnessing today. For this very reason China can also be held liable for committing ‘International Wrongful Act.’ Various class action lawsuits have also been filed in various local courts across the world to sue China. But it’s comparatively a very tough task to fight against China in these courts as the domestic courts cannot compel a foreign State to answer its process. The suits are mainly been filed on the basis of the tort principles blaming China for committing the tort of negligence, assault, battery etc. But until China is proved as a tortfeasor, no one can hold it liable. China is also seeking for ‘General Defences’ which is another most important concept in tort law. China is regarding the COVID crisis as an ‘Act of God’ and ‘Inevitable Accident.’ In such cases, the defendant can’t be held liable. Whatever damages the appellant party may seek for, China is in no means obligated to compensate them. In another way, the complaining States can argue that this COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a lot of damage in property, lives and economy all over the world and that’s all because of China. But, in such a case also, China can’t be proved as a tortfeasor because China has not violated the legal rights as per the principle of ‘Damnum Sine Injuria.’ Speaking about our country, where the tort law has no codified aspect, it’s really a tough task to fight with China under the tort law. Until, our neighbour China reveals all relevant details it’s almost impossible for India to fight against such a ‘Unitary one-party socialist Republic’ country.
None of the alternatives are simple, anything would require significant international cooperation and willpower to implement, particularly considering China’s lofty economic influence. But these are ultimately the only legal options available to prevent another global pandemic.
The whole world is now under a fervent condition due to this global coronavirus pandemic. According to Ivana Stradner, a renowned national security expert at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), ‘Chinese behaviour is a threat to global security and constitutes a violation of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes the U.N. Security Council to take action to maintain or restore international peace and security.. States, and the U.S. in particular, can react to the coronavirus outbreak by invoking the principle of self-defence.’ So, there’s a lot of alternatives available which may be considered in the fight against China. The possible allegations against China are violation of International Health Regulations, violation of the Transboundary Harm Principle, negligence, battery and assault. Though China equally possess the capacity to fight against the complaining parties not to be proved guilty, they should not lose hope and keep fighting. They must also equally abide by proper lockdown rules and regulations, stay at home and fight for saving their countries from the hands of this COVID-19 pandemic.
We, in India need to quickly control the spread amidst this huge population. The whole country is heading towards economic recession. Depending on how soon we tackle the corona, India would begin its economic recovery. It’s only by unity and full play of democracy, the battle against corona can be won. Let’s not move back and fight corona.
 International Health Regulations 2005, art. 6.
 International Health Regulations 2005, art. 7.
 International Health Regulations 2005, art. 11.
 Hollie McKay, How China can be held legally accountable for Coronavirus Pandemic, FOXNEWS (March 20, 2020), https://www.foxnews.com/world/china-legally-accountable-coronavirus