Australia

Coalition of 116 countries back Australia's push for independent coronavirus inquiry

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Source: AAP

A group of 54 African nations has joined Australia's push for an inquiry into coronavirus, taking the total number of countries on board to 116.

More than 110 countries have backed Australia's push for an independent coronavirus inquiry which has caused a damaging rift with China.

The African Group's 54 member states will co-sponsor the motion, joining 62 other countries including Russia, Indonesia, India, Japan, Britain and Canada.

The European Union's 27 members are all on board, along with Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Turkey and New Zealand.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Monday said it was encouraging to see so many countries backing the inquiry. 

"I think what it illustrates is a broad view that given the experience of COVID-19 - over 300,000 deaths, millions of people around the world losing their jobs, the impact on economies from one corner of the globe to the other - that there is a strong view that it is appropriate to engage in a review of what has happened.

"I don't want to preempt speculate about the outcome, those discussions will be under way later this evening. I think it's a win for the international community."

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The draft resolution calls for impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the international response to the pandemic.

It doesn't mention China, but Australia's push for the inquiry has angered Beijing, which has threatened a huge tariff on barley and blocked some beef imports.

Health Minister Greg Hunt will represent Australia at the virtual World Health Assembly meeting on Monday night.

A vote is expected in the early hours of Tuesday.

In relation to the motion pushing federal Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Monday it was important to "get to the bottom" of what had happened. 

"I think the most important thing, rather than apportioning blame to one particular country or another country, is that we get to the bottom of what's happened. And part of that is about the origin, where this virus came from," he told reporters. 

"Looking at the entire way that it has spread so rapidly around the world and what's happened in different countries in the ways that different countries have approached that problem will be part of that investigation. And I hope that that resolution will be successful," he added. 

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the inquiry was about investigating what the world could learn from the devastating pandemic.

"That's the responsible thing to do when 300,000 souls have lost their lives around the world," he told the ABC on Monday.

Mr Littleproud said his Chinese counterpart had indicated he would not discuss trade issues in the near future.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has not received a return call from his Chinese counterpart.

Australia isn't ruling out taking China to the World Trade Organisation over the 80 per cent tariff on barley.

Mr Littleproud said he would continue to make the case to China that exporters were not dumping product.

"We will prosecute that case on behalf of Australian exporters," he said.

"If those that we're prosecuting against don't understand it, we'll take it to an umpire for them to understand."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described the push for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus as completely unremarkable.

But China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi lashed out at foreign lawmakers for politicising the pandemic.

Beijing's man in Canberra raised the prospect of consumer boycotts of Australian products because of the push for an inquiry.

Since then, the barley threat has surfaced, while four major Australian abattoirs have been blocked from sending their product to China.

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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