OTTAWA -- While the Conservative Party leadership campaign is paused, front-runners Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole appear to have found a new shared focus: criticizing the Chinese government’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Both have signed on, alongside a handful of other Conservative politicians and prominent party members, to an open letter deeply critical of China’s actions that they say are responsible for prompting what’s become a global pandemic that has infected millions and killed thousands.

“The Chinese Communist Party covered up the COVID-19 outbreak in critical early stages. They deprived the world of our chance to react. They are responsible for this global pandemic,” tweeted MacKay on Thursday with a link to the letter. 

“It’s time for social distancing with the Chinese regime,” O’Toole tweeted on Thursday. He had previously circulated content pointing out his distrust of the Chinese regime. 

The open letter— addressed to “Chinese citizens and friends of China at home and abroad”— condemns the country’s efforts to contain the virus’ spread, calling it “China’s Chernobyl moment” and “a self-inflicted wound.

It goes on to condemn the Chinese government for silencing doctors who tried to warn others about the outbreak early on, and calls for a “critical evaluation” of the impact the decisions made by China has had on Chinese citizens and more broadly, people around the world. 

Tory MP James Bezan, and Nova Scotia Sen. Michael L. MacDonald have also added their names to the letter. 

As The Associated Press has reported based on internal documents they obtained, in the days after top Chinese officials determined they were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, thousands of people became infected before a public warning was issued. 

Backed by Canadian think-tank Macdonald-Laurier Institute in collaboration with two European groups based out of London and Prague, members of European and U.K. parliaments are also among those who have added their names to the open letter. 

Human rights advocate and former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler was one of the early backers of the letter, but no current Liberal members of Parliament have added their names to the roster of more than 170 foreign policy experts and political figures that have signed the letter. 

Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has not added his name to the list, but he has in recent days become more critical of Canada’s reliance on the World Health Organization for information about the virus, questioning its validity and the “influence that China has” on the WHO. 

With questions circling about China’s transparency, so far the federal Liberal government has defended the WHO, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying that the time will come for accountability and inspection of how certain countries handled the outbreak.