A Wuhan woman wants China to pay.
Zhao Lei is suing the government for compensation and a rare public apology for its botched response to the coronavirus pandemic that has already killed 851,141 people and infected more than 25.5 million people globally.
Among those that lost their lives was Zhao’s father.
Zhao, 39, told Sky News her dad had contracted the deadly disease at the end of January but that the city’s emergency services were so overwhelmed by the tsunami of growing COVID-19 cases that there was no ambulance to take him to the hospital.
His family had to walk 6 miles in the freezing cold before they were eventually picked up by a local driving an auto-rickshaw. But by then, the damage had been done and Zhao’s ailing father only got worse. He died of respiratory failure as he sat in the emergency waiting room.
“My father was honest,” she said. “…He was very kind. In Wuhan, he was a very ordinary person. He obeyed all the rules.”
The shock of losing her father pushed Zhao to make the brave decision to go after the government herself.
“I think the government covered up some facts,” she said.
Zhao’s father fell ill soon after the city went on lockdown. His death was a shock to her system.
“At that time, I was stunned,” she said. “Afterwards, my heart was broken, and I was very angry too.”
“Afterwards, my heart was broken, and I was very angry too.”
— Zhao Lei
That anger turned into action.
While thousands of families in Wuhan have grieved like Zhao, very few have publicly shamed and blamed the government — mostly out of fear.
The police have allegedly visited her mother, warning her that Zhao should drop the case and not talk publicly about her experience.
The ruling Communist Party has been known to silence and detain people it believes are speaking ill of the country or painting those in charge in any type of negative light.
In fact, during the early days of COVID-19, Chinese authorities routinely rounded up citizen journalists who reported from Wuhan, with some still in custody. The country also kicked out several Western journalists who dared to report on the novel coronavirus that would eventually go on to ravage the world.
But Zhao remains steadfast and says the scare tactics aren’t going to make her change her mind. She is ready to take her case to the supreme court of Hubei, Wuhan’s province.
“What I did is legal, what I said is fact,” she said. “I didn’t lie. I didn’t make up rumors.”
She also believes that her lawsuit is ultimately good for the country.
“It can warn people that if we have a disaster next time, we could do something to prevent bad outcomes. We can save more people,” she said.
China has bent over backward trying to change the global narrative over its handling of the killer virus. The adjusted national narrative is that China has conquered the coronavirus and done so by the leadership of President Xi Jinping.
In June, the government published its official account of its response.
“The Communist Party of China and the Chinese government have addressed the epidemic as a top priority, and taken swift action,” the white paper said. “General Secretary Xi Jinping has taken personal command, planned the response, overseen the general situation, and acted decisively, pointing the way forward in the fight against the epidemic.”
Zhao isn’t buying it.