Zhao Lei, whose father died on February 3, is seeking two million yuan in compensation in a landmark lawsuit – the fourth person in China to seek legal recourse in respect of the pandemic response. She is also demanding a formal apology from the governor of Hubei province, and the mayor of Wuhan, which is Hubei’s provincial capital.
By the time Zhao’s father fell ill, Hong Kong had already begun quarantining anyone from Wuhan found to be suffering from a fever, with health officials suggesting the mainland city, where COVID-19 was first identified towards the end of last year, was the centre of a “super-spreading event”.
Both China and the World Health Organization continued to deny the disease was being transmitted from person to person until January 22, when it was confirmed by National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin.
China has also repeatedly hit back at claims it covered-up the spread of the disease.
Zhao told the US-funded Radio Free Asia website: “The government concealed the fact that the coronavirus can be transmitted between people, which meant that everyone in Wuhan, including our family, carried on buying stuff, eating celebratory meals for Lunar New Year and eating out together.
Zhao Lei has accused authorities in Wuhan and Hubei of a cover-up resulting in her father’s death
Dr Li Wenliang, the whistleblower who died of COVID-19
“He had pneumonia and died in the emergency room five days after getting sick, but it said ‘sudden death’ on his death certificate.
Her father became symptomatic on January 30, when he developed a fever.
He was subsequently taken to Wuhan Zhongshan Hospital but died while waiting to be seen by a doctor.
Tests eventually proved he was infected with coronavirus, as was Zhao herself. She continues her recovery from the disease.
Zhao also cites the treatment handed out to whistle-blower Dr Li Wenliang, who sought to warn the world of the danger posed by COVID-19, only to die of the illness himself.
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Workers in Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first identified
Why did the government try to cover this up at first? If they hadn’t done that, my father wouldn’t have died of it.”
Li was warned by the authorities about “rumour-mongering” in a move which is widely believed to have been motivated by a desire to keep the situation quiet.
Zhao added: “Why did the government try to cover this up at first? If they hadn’t done that, my father wouldn’t have died of it.”
“That’s why I’m suing the municipal authorities and the provincial government, who I think should make a formal response.”
Zhao believes the authorities were guilty of a deliberate cover-up in the vital first few weeks of the developing pandemic which meant people were unable to take steps which might have prevented them developing the virus.
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Street cleansing in Henan province, which borders Hubei
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She is also calling for widespread investigation of municipal and provincial officials.
Human rights campaigner Yang Zhanqing, who is helping Zhao with her case, has sent the lawsuit to the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court, and is currently awaiting a response.
He said: “This is the fourth such case. The third plaintiff also lost her father because of the virus, because they weren’t given the right information.
“So they went out to New Year’s dinners as if everything was OK, then they got a fever, and ended up in the hospital.”
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While he acknowledged it was unlikely the case would result in any financial settlement, Yang said he was hoping the resulting publicity would focus attention on the issue.
He said that while the people who are filing lawsuits have scant hope of victory, they are hoping to focus public attention on the plight of victims and their families.
Yang said other families were frightened to launch legal action for fear of intimidation.
He explained: “A lot of victims’ families have been subjected to threats to a greater or lesser degree, and some who had intended to sue are now unable to.”
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Another Wuhan resident agreed, telling RFA another plaintiff, Zhang Hai, had been placed under huge pressure not to go through with a similar case.
The insider said: “Zhang Hai was the first to sue, and the court wouldn’t take the case.
“They basically make up the law as they go along and then tear it up when it suits them.”
Zhang himself told RFA he still hoped to press ahead with legal action, asking: “Was this tragedy a natural or a man-made disaster?”