China will be financially liable for billions of pounds in compensation to the UK if it is proven that Beijing was negligent, Tory MP Mark Francois has said. The illness emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan towards the end of last year, and has since infected more than three million people across the globe, claiming more than 200,000 lives so far.
Mystery surrounds the circumstances in which the illness began infecting humans.
It seems likely the coronavirus is a zoonotic illness which jumped species as a result of close contact between humans and livestock, possibly at a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan.
However, the World Health Organization has said it cannot rule out the possibility the virus could have spread from a secretive lab opened by the Chinese government just outside the city.
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Additionally, there are widespread doubts about the total number of cases within the country confirmed by the Chinese authorities, which officially stands at 83,944.
Critics including US President Donald Trump have suggested China’s lack of transparency was a contributory factor in creating the conditions which triggered the pandemic.
Mr Francois told Express.co.uk: “The whole world needs to know what really happened in Wuhan and whether this wicked virus really escaped from a local Chinese laboratory or not.
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“Once we have established what actually happened, if this was in fact down to staggering Chinese incompetence then, of course, they should pay compensation.
“But communist regimes tend not to admit errors, just look at the old Soviet Union and Chernobyl.”
Mr Francois, MP for Rayleigh and Wickford in Essex declined to put a specific figure on the amount which China would be expected to pay if it was confirmed negligence was a factor.
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However, he acknowledged the cost of the disease to the UK, which like much of the rest of the world is in lockdown, was likely to into hundreds of billions of pounds
Mr Francois further suggested that the damage to the worldwide economy would equate to trillions of pounds.
An analysis published yesterday by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) suggested GDP was set to fall by seven per cent in 2020, with public sector borrowing rising above £200 billion in 2020–21, more than £150 billion more than in the OBR’s forecast at budget time.
Garry Young, NIESR Deputy Director, said: “There is massive uncertainty about how long and how severe this crisis will be.
“For our reassuring main-case forecast scenario to come true it is necessary to believe that the complex network of relationships that make up the economy can be restored after the lockdown without any significant long-term damage.”
“So far the signs are promising, but the most significant challenges are likely to come as we approach end or winding down of the lockdown and the supportive schemes are withdrawn.
“In those circumstances, the government schemes will need to be adapted to help businesses survive in a partially recovered economy.”
The issue of China’s culpability has been widely discussed, not least by Mr Trump.
Speaking earlier this week, he said: “We’re doing very serious investigations.
“We are not happy with China. We believe it could have been stopped at the source.
“It could have been stopped quickly and it wouldn’t have spread all over the world.”
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