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Who is Responsible for the Spread of COVID-19?

After the COVID-19 outbreak is under effective control in China, the coronavirus continues to spread in many European countries and the United States. China is actively committed to international cooperation, including providing assistance to severely-hit countries as much as it can. Unfortunately, at this critical moment when solidarity and joint efforts are needed more than ever, we hear some harsh remarks like China should be held accountable for the global spread of the novel coronavirus, China's offering of face masks and other medical supplies to the West is a "propaganda effort" to "cover up its own responsibility". A few scholars attempted to find theoretical argument for their claims from the perspective of "state liability" under international law. Some high-ranking officials in some countries even declared to "settle accounts" with China after the outbreak, including "claiming compensations" from China.

Clearly, these arguments are full of political arrogance and prejudice, and violate basic human conscience and moral codes.

According to international law, the precondition of a country bearing "state liability" for certain damages is that the country has committed an "international wrongful act", in other words, the country acted in violation of its international obligations. Some people say that China concealed information for a long time after the outbreak, failing its obligations to notify WHO in a timely manner as stipulated in the International Health Regulations. But is this really the case?

On 27th of December 2019, a hospital in Hubei Province of China reported three cases of pneumonia of unknown causes for the first time. Two days later, relevant authorities carried out an epidemiological investigation and notified the WHO office in China on 31st of December. On the 3rd of January 2020, China formally reported to WHO and the virus was separated on the 7th of January. On the 12th of January, the whole genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus was shared with WHO. Since then, China has been keeping contact with WHO and other countries. As we can see from this time line, China's handling and notification of this incident is extremely speedy, open, transparent and responsible. Especially considering that COVID-19 is a brand-new virus, it will take some time to make a scientific and prudent assessment of its character, transmissibility and severity. It was not until 30th January that WHO declared the epidemic as "Public Health Emergency of International Concern", which once again proved that there was no delay in China's notification. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the speed and scale of China's move were rarely seen in the world.

China has taken unprecedentedly comprehensive, thorough and rigorous measures to stem the spread of the virus. From the beginning, President Xi Jinping has stressed "to put people's safety and health as the top priority". That was and remains the starting point of the Chinese government's response to the epidemic. On January 23, China decisively imposed lockdown in Wuhan, and initiated the top level of public health emergency response across China. These measures go beyond the requirement of International Health Regulations in many aspects. Some statistical prediction models show that with these measures, at least 80% of possible infections have been prevented, and valuable time was bought for the rest of China and the rest of the world in containing the epidemic. Chinese people, especially the inhabitants of Wuhan, have made enormous sacrifices for this. The Chinese government also updates the latest data every day, and shares information and experiences with other countries. It shows not only that China has never violated its international obligations, but also has set a new standard for the world in fulfilling international obligations, as noted by WHO.

Then why did the pandemic outbreak later in Europe and the US? Being the first country seriously hit by the unknown virus, China managed to achieve remarkable results within two months. Despite the available knowledge of the virus's trait and the WHO's repeated calls for better prevention, the virus still spread widely under our noses. Something must went really wrong. "We knew in the last week of January that this was coming. The message from China was absolutely clear", said Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the well-known medical journal The Lancet, He believes that some countries have wasted a lot of time. Shouldn't these countries reflect on themselves with an open mind?

Therefore, countries concerned should focus on how to improve their response to the pandemic and protect the safety and health of their people, rather than focusing on shirking responsibilities. Otherwise, it will do no good in combating the pandemic in their own countries, and will even endanger global public health. China will remain committed to cooperation with all parties in goodwill to make contributions to defeating COVID-19, the common enemy of mankind.

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