Australia

Scott Morrison wants to arm WHO with powers of weapon inspectors

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media at a press conference in Canberra. Source: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has lobbied world leaders including Donald Trump to strengthen the World Health Organisation's powers to deal with pandemics.

Scott Morrison is pushing for the World Health Organisation to be handed the same powers as weapons inspectors to deal with future pandemics.

The prime minister has lobbied world leaders including Donald Trump to give the United Nations agency a strengthened capability to guard against future outbreaks.

"If we have that ability that could potentially save thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives. We need to have that sort of ability," Mr Morrison told Sky News on Wednesday night.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for World Health Organisation investigators to gain enhanced powers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for World Health Organisation investigators to gain enhanced powers.
AAP

The WHO has come under heavy pressure from Australia and other western nations for being too slow to react to the outbreak of coronavirus in China.

Weapons inspector powers would allow health officials to enter countries without invitation to investigate the source of disease outbreaks.

China has been accused of lacking transparency at the onset of coronavirus when it first emerged in the city of Wuhan late last year.

A stronger WHO could be given full access to data and other information crucial to tracking and suppressing disease.

Mr Morrison said if the world had been alerted to the gravity of the virus earlier, it may have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

"We need to have a transparent and independent process to look at what's gone on here, and even more importantly, what things have to change," he said.

The prime minister said there could be no repeat of the aftermath of the ebola epidemic, when there was an inquiry that didn't lead to major reform.

Mr Morrison has raised the issue of strengthening the international health agency with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emannuel Macron.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has also launched a global push for independent experts to scrutinise wild animal markets.

"We must learn from COVID-19 on how we better manage and mitigate both human and animal biosecurity risks and to ignore wildlife wet markets in that assessment would be wrong," he said on Thursday.

"There are risks with wildlife wet markets and they could be as big a risk to our agricultural industries as they can be to public health so we have to understand them better."

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
AAP

The likely source of coronavirus making the jump to humans was at a Chinese wet market.

At home, the federal government is eyeing tax and industrial relations reforms as part of a suite of measures to restart the economy after the crisis.

Australia's coronavirus death toll has reached 74 but the rate of new infections continues to drop, prompting restrictions on elective surgeries to be eased.

More than two-thirds of the 6600 people who have been infected in Australia have fully recovered.

The average daily rise in cases over the past three days is at 0.3 per cent, with just four cases detected on Wednesday.

Australia's deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly has warned against putting the brakes on social distancing measures. 

"Just because you're slowing down, you don't take the parachute off when you're approaching the landing - you wait until you've landed," he told reporters in Canberra.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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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