Australia seeks probe into coronavirus spread, France and UK say now not the time

SYDNEY/GENEVA (Reuters) – Australia sought support for an international probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in calls with U.S. President Donald Trump and major powers, but France and Britain said now was the time to fight the virus and not apportion blame.

Australia’s push for an independent review of the origins and spread of the pandemic, including the response of the World Health Organization (WHO), has drawn sharp criticism from China, which has accused Australian lawmakers of taking instructions from the United States.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Twitter he had “a very constructive discussion” with Trump on the two nation’s responses to COVID-19 and the need to get economies up and running.

“We also talked about the WHO & working together to improve the transparency & effectiveness of the international responses to pandemics,” he tweeted.

The White House has been fiercely critical of China and the WHO, and has withdrawn U.S. funding from the U.N. agency.

Morrison also spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron by phone about the role of the WHO, his office said.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly said that the U.N. agency will evaluate its handling of the pandemic after it ends and draw the appropriate lessons, as it does after all emergencies.

Macron told Morrison now was not the time for an investigation, a French official said.

“He says he agrees that there have been some issues at the start, but that the urgency is for cohesion, that it is no time to talk about this, while reaffirming the need for transparency for all players, not only the WHO,” an Elysee official told Reuters.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there would be a time when Britain will have to look at the lessons to be learned from the crisis, but for now ministers were focused on fighting the pandemic.

Britain has been criticised by the opposition Labour Party for its slow response and its failure to provide enough tests and protective gear for front liners.

In Berlin, the government confirmed that Merkel had spoken with Morrison on Tuesday. Last Friday, her spokesman said: “The coronavirus appeared first in China. China has suffered a lot from the virus and did a lot to fight against spreading.”

The coronavirus, believed to have emerged in a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, was first reported by China to the WHO on Dec. 31.

WHO informed member states of the outbreak on Jan 5 and warned publicly a week later that there was “limited” human-to-human transmission. WHO officials arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 20, after the virus had spread to three other countries. It went on to declare a global emergency on Jan. 30.

The virus has since infected some 2.3 million people globally and killed nearly 160,000, according to Reuters calculations.

Australia is examining whether the WHO should be given powers, similar to international weapons inspectors, to enter a country to investigate an outbreak without having to wait for consent, a government source told Reuters.

Senior Australian lawmakers have also questioned Beijing’s transparency over the pandemic.

China’s embassy in Canberra said in a statement late on Tuesday that Australian lawmakers were acting as the mouthpiece of Trump and “certain Australian politicians are keen to parrot what those Americans have asserted and simply follow them in staging political attacks on China”.

Australia has recorded just over 6,600 cases of the virus nationally, with four new cases on Wednesday. Infection rates have slowed from 25% in mid-March to less than 1% a day.

Lawmakers plan to ease some curbs, with Australia’s iconic Bondi Beach to partially reopen next week.

(This story was refiled to restore the full names, titles of Morrison, Macron)

Source: Read Full Article