Australia

Australia welcomes global inquiry into coronavirus response

Health Minister Greg Hunt says an international coronavirus probe must examine wildlife wet markets. Source: AAP

The Australian government has welcomed the passing of a "landmark resolution" by the World Health Assembly for an independent review into the coronavirus.

A resolution for a review into the global response to coronavirus has passed at the World Health Assembly.

The WHA resolution commits to an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the international response to the pandemic.

Led by the European Union and co-sponsored by more than 130 World Health Organisation member states, the motion passed late on Tuesday night.

In a joint statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Australian government welcomed the adoption of the "landmark resolution".

"There is also a clear mandate to identify the source of the COVID-19 virus and how it was transmitted to humans, which will be necessary to prevent and reduce the risks of the emergence of new diseases that pass from animals to humans," the statement said.

"Australia has been clear and transparent in calling for an independent review into COVID-19, which is an unprecedented global health and economic crisis.

"Australia will continue to be a consistent and constructive voice in the international community to advance and protect our national interest and the global interest."

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne speaks to the media.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne speaks to the media.
AAP

China had earlier lashed out at claims Australia's push for an international probe into the coronavirus had been vindicated, labelling it a "joke".

China agreed to support an investigation after more than 110 countries co-sponsored the motion at the WHA on Monday night.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the call for a review, stressing that he would "initiate such an evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment".

Australia's push for the inquiry into the origin of the virus sparked fury from Beijing, with diplomatic ties between the two nations under intense pressure.

Senior government figures claim the inquiry vindicates the government's stance, prompting a scathing response from China's embassy in Australia.

"The draft resolution on COVID-19 to be adopted by the World Health Assembly is totally different from Australia's proposal of an independent international review," a spokesman told AAP on Tuesday.

"To claim the WHA's resolution a vindication of Australia's call is nothing but a joke."

Nationals senator Matt Canavan, a former resources minister, said those comments were clearly provocative but hardly surprising.

"The conduct of the Chinese government over this period, but also the last few years, has been hard to predict and increased risk for Australian business," he told ABC television.

Senior cabinet minister David Littleproud denied the investigation was about confronting China.

"This wasn't about persecution, this was about understanding a pandemic that 300,000 souls lost their lives to," he said in Toowoomba.

"We should be damn proud Australia is now leading the world."

Mr Hunt argued Australia's case for the inquiry at the assembly.

He said the probe should look at health risks from wildlife wet markets, where the virus is likely to have originated in China.

"We need to learn the lessons from this pandemic and ensure we have the strongest possible global health architecture, with an enhanced ability to prevent and respond to future outbreaks," he said.

Donald Trump talks to reporters.
Donald Trump talks to reporters.
Getty

US President Donald Trump supported the probe by tweeting a link to an SBS News story on the motion.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also backed the WHO-led review, saying his country had acted with openness, transparency and responsibility all along.

He promised China would stump up $3.1 billion over the next two years to help deal with the disease.

Australia's relations with China have come under further strain after Beijing slapped an 80 per cent tariff on barley imports and banned beef imports from four abattoirs.

People wear protective masks and suits at Beijing Railway Station.
People wear protective masks and suits at Beijing Railway Station.
Getty

COVID-19 has killed 100 people across Australia, with fewer than 600 cases still active out of more than 7000 total.

Four nursing homes in Melbourne have gone into lockdown after a resident from each were tested for the virus.

Three have returned positive results while results for a fourth are pending.

Tasmania expects to set a date for reopening its border in July once the third step of easing restrictions is taken.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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