News Coronavirus China, US backs call for independent coronavirus inquiry

China, US backs call for independent coronavirus inquiry

China President Xi Jinping addresses the World Health Assembly via a video speech on Monday night. Photo: China Xinhua News/Twitter
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China has agreed to support a review into the coronavirus pandemic led by the World Health Organisation, but not the independent investigation being pushed by Australia.

WHO says it will launch the review as soon as possible after China pledged to spend $US2 billion ($A3.1 billion) over the next two years to help deal with COVID-19, especially in developing countries.

But President Xi Jinping said only when the pandemic has been brought under control should a WHO-led inquiry into COVID-19 begin, with the ultimate aim of summing up experiences and remedying deficiencies.

“This work needs a scientific and professional attitude, and needs to be led by the WHO; and the principles of objectivity and fairness need to be upheld,” he told the World Health Assembly.

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday (Australian time) wrote “we are with them!” to his 80 million Twitter followers in an apparent show of support to an Australian-backed push for an independent inquiry.

His administration had earlier decried an “apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak by at least one member state”.

US Health Secretary Alex Azar did not mention China by name, but made clear Washington considered the WHO jointly responsible for the pandemic.

“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control,” he said on Monday.

“There was a failure by this organisation to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN body had “sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often”.

Back to school

In New South Wales, students at state schools will return to classroom teaching full time from next Monday, two months after coronavirus forced them to study at home.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is due to confirm the return date of May 25 on Tuesday, the ABC reported on Monday.

There will however be no assemblies or excursions during the pandemic.

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is relaxing restrictions by allowing schools to return to normal. Photo: AAP

Staged returns have also started in Queensland, while in Victoria prep, grades 1, 2, 11 and 12 students return to their classrooms on May 26 with the rest returning from June 9.

Western Australia has reinstated compulsory school attendance from May 18. Tasmanian schools will start to reopen from May 25.

Face-to-face learning resumed across NSW last week with year 12 students at state and independent schools returning on average three to four days a week while other students are attending school at least one day a week.

Victorian cases rise

The Villa Maria Aged Care facility in Bundoora has locked-down after a resident tested positive for the coronavirus after experiencing mild symptoms. Staff are using full PPE to care for them.

They along with all aged care residents will be tested over the coming days and contact tracing is underway, the health department said in a statement.

“Residents and families are all being informed, and the department is working closely with the facility to ensure appropriate public health actions have been taken, including isolation, quarantine and cleaning,” the statement reads.

Meanwhile, 12 McDonald’s outlets remained shut for deep cleaning after a truck driver made deliveries while asymptomatic with COVID-19.

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McDonald’s has closed 12 of its takeaway outlets in Melbourne after a driver’s positive coronavirus test. Photo: AAP

The driver was an extended family member of a worker at the McDonald’s in Fawkner, where a cluster emerged on May 9.

Eleven cases have been linked to the cluster, including four staff and seven close contacts.

COVID-19 death toll

Two people in north-west Tasmania who had tested positive to COVID-19 have died, but authorities have stopped short of labelling the virus as the cause.

A man and woman, both aged in their 60s, died on Sunday and Monday respectively at the North West Regional Hospital.

The pair both had serious pre-existing health conditions, acting public health director Dr Scott McKeown said in a statement on Monday night.

Both deaths have been referred to the coroner and until more information has been obtained won’t be counted as coronavirus-related deaths.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Tasmania remains at 13.

The state recorded no new cases on Monday, leaving the overall tally at 226, as Premier Peter Gutwein held firm on strict border controls.

Traffic chaos

The NSW transport minister warned of indefinite Sydney traffic chaos as social distancing measures force people returning to on-site employment off public transport.

Ms Berejiklian on Monday said peak-hour bus and train services were already at capacity, with just 12 passengers per bus and 32 per train carriage permitted.

Ms Berejiklian and Transport Minister Andrew Constance said workers would for the foreseeable future need to shift their schedules to off-peak bus and train transport, take alternative ferry and light rail routes or drive, drop off, cycle or walk.

This would inevitably clog Sydney roads.

Mr Constance said 87 million vehicle movements were recorded around the state on Friday as people continued to work from home – down from an average of 105 million.

The maximum number of daily public transport trips permitted amid social distancing guidelines, meanwhile, would be 600,000 per day – down from 2.2 million.

Australia has recorded about 7060 cases, but only 567 remain active.

The national death toll is 99 – NSW 48, Victoria 18, Tasmania 13, Western Australia nine, Queensland six, South Australia four, ACT three. (Two Qld residents who died in NSW have been included in both state’s counts).

-with AAP