News Coalition of 62 countries backs Australian, EU push for independent inquiry into coronavirus

Coalition of 62 countries backs Australian, EU push for independent inquiry into coronavirus

People being tested in Wuhan. The motion does not specifically mention where the outbreak is believed to have begun. Photo: AP
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A coalition of 62 countries has backed a joint Australian and European Union push for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak before a crucial World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting in Geneva on Monday.

Australia was the first nation to call for an independent inquiry into how the coronavirus started.

That drew furious condemnation from Beijing, which accused Australia of launching a political attack on China.

But international support for the idea has been steadily growing.

The Morrison government has now swung its diplomatic firepower behind the European Union, which has also been pressing for an investigation while taking a more conciliatory line with Beijing.

European nations and Australia have been rallying support for a draft EU motion which calls for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of “the WHO-co-ordinated international health response to COVID-19”.

As of Sunday evening, Canberra time, 62 nations – including Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Russia, South Africa and the United Kingdom – had backed the motion.

The motion does not specifically mention China or the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have begun.

But it does say the WHO should work with the World Organisation for Animal Health to conduct “scientific and collaborative field missions” and “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts”.

Australian government sources said the language was strong enough to ensure that a proper and thorough investigation took place, although they are still calling this a “first step” towards ensuring transparency.

At this stage neither China nor the US have backed the motion.

EU and Australian diplomats were still working on Sunday to convince both major powers to give their support.

Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said: “There is positive support for an independent review into the pandemic to help the world learn the lessons necessary to protect global health.

“Australia and a significant number of countries are co-sponsoring the EU-led resolution, which includes a call for an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation.

“This is about collaborating to equip the international community to better prevent or counter the next pandemic and keep our citizens safe.”

The EU’s spokeswoman for foreign affairs, Virginie Battu-Henriksson, said the organisation was focused on reaching a consensus for an inquiry.

“Of course, we need to have the support of all the major players, and China is one of them,” she told the ABC.

Meanwhile, US diplomats have been pressing for tougher language that specifically calls for a probe into how the virus started in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both furiously denounced China’s initial response to the virus, accusing it of covering up the initial outbreak and allowing it to spread around the world.

But Ms Battu-Henriksson said the EU was focused on “really getting together and finding a solution which is workable for all”.

“For us, it is not the moment for us to enter any kind of blame game as we’ve seen in narratives from one part or another of the world,” she said.

ABC