North Fork New York State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo is calling on the United States to issue a declaration that the Covid-19 coronavirus is an act of terrorism by China.
Joined by local business leaders at his Riverhead office Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Palumbo said the designation would open up nearly $1 trillion in funding for businesses from insurance companies nationwide.
“China has been deceitful and intentionally lied and concealed information about this pandemic when they discovered it in Wuhan,” said Mr. Palumbo. “They have repeatedly changed data about affected persons and completely changed the death toll. They allowed flights to continue internationally with impunity while domestically they shut down travel into Wuhan.”
Mr. Palumbo said the U.S. Terrorist Risk Insurance Act Fund would enable businesses to access the funding by filing an insurance claim for disruption to their businesses for actions that “involve violent acts, acts that are dangerous to human life and violations of criminal laws of the United States or any state.”
“Intentionally concealing a pandemic is just that,” he said.
Mr. Palumbo said he and fellow State Assemblyman Joseph DeStefano hatched the idea earlier this week after hearing from business leaders who couldn’t access insurance money or disaster assistance from the Small Business Administration.
Downtown Riverhead, where businesses have been edging their way toward revitalization for the better part of a decade, has been hit hard by the business shutdown, which has now gone on for more than a month. The community was dealt another blow this week when longtime former Riverhead Business Improvement District President Ray Pickersgill died of Covid-19.
“I know firsthand the pain this virus has caused, with the sickness and death of many family members and close friends,” said Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who spoke at Mr. Palumbo’s press conference. Ms. Giglio is also a former president and co-founder of the Riverhead Business Alliance.
“Businesses here are on life support,” she said. “Small businesses are having difficulty accessing funding sources…. Call this pandemic what it is. It is an act of terrorism.”
Suffolk County Restaurant and Tavern Association President Bob Gerety painted a bleak picture for his industry.
“If we do not get help, at least half of our membership will not survive,” he said. “They will close their doors forever. That’s terrible. A lot of people’s life work is on the line here.”
Mr. Gerety added that, even when restaurants can reopen, they will likely face strict occupancy restrictions that will make their business models unsustainable.
Mr. Palumbo said he is calling on President Donald Trump, who had called the potential dangers of the virus to the United States a Democrat hoax well into February, despite receiving intelligence briefings to the contrary, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to make the declaration that the lack of information about the virus is an act of terror on the part of China.
“President Trump certainly is a man who has the stomach to do something like this. This fits the criteria. He will act appropriately,” said Mr. Palumbo.
“It doesn’t necessarily matter whether it was intentionally released,” he added. “I’m not interested in that. Whether it was a biological weapon, or the market in Wuhan or the lab, 300 yards from market, it was an intentional act of omission. Failure to notify the world fits the criteria.”
Mr. Palumbo said he plans to circulate his letter among state legislators to see if he can get more of them to sign on.
Mr. Palumbo, a Republican, is running this year for the New York State Senate seat to be vacated by veteran Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, and Ms. Giglio, also a Republican, is running for Mr. Palumbo’s Assembly seat.
Former Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, a Democrat, is also running for Mr. Palumbo’s Assembly seat.
“It is unfathomable that Tony and Jodi are wasting five minutes of time on international relations when they should be aiding the unemployed, small business owners who are hurting, and nurses who need PPE,” said Ms. Jens-Smith, who called the proposal “grandstanding,” in a press release Tuesday.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was unaware of Mr. Palumbo’s request when asked about it at his Tuesday afternoon media call.
“I’m trying to keep focused on what really matters here,” he said. “As we move away from the height of this crisis, we can already start to see there are some that think it’s time to move away from this cooperative spirit of working together. I hope that is not the case moving forward.”