The World Health Organisation has named Australia as part of a global team of countries that will help investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
It comes almost two months after Scott Morrison called on nations to “do all we can” to find the source of the pandemic.
The Prime Minister first called for an “absolutely critical” international inquiry into COVID’s origins in April, saying all member nations of the WHO should support an independent review into the pandemic.
Australia and nine other countries have committed to developing plans for longer-term studies that will build on China’s findings of where the virus originated and how it jumped the species barrier.
Members of the WHO-led international team “are very respected individuals in their areas”, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the WHO annual ministerial meeting on Wednesday morning (Australian time).
They come from Australia, Russia, Sudan, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and the United States.
It was revealed in April that Mr Morrison had lobbied world leaders to give WHO “weapons inspector powers” that would allow health officials to enter countries to investigate the source of outbreaks.
His push for a coronavirus inquiry had angered China which subsequently imposed tariffs on Australian barley and, more recently, is reported to have supposedly banned several Australian imports, according to the state-run Global Times.
The US government which also accused China of having hidden the extent of its coronavirus outbreak called for a “transparent and inclusive” WHO-led international investigation.
It criticised its current terms.
The virus is believed to have emerged in the Chinese central city of Wuhan late last year, possibly from bats at a market with live animals.
Chinese scientists are investigating where the virus originated and how it was transmitted from animals to humans.
The fact that the team will build on China’s findings, according to its published terms of reference, had not been brought to the attention of the US Department of Health and Human Services until a few days ago.
Garrett Grigsby from the US’ DHHS said the terms were “not negotiated in a transparent way with all WHO member states”.
He said “the investigation itself appears to be inconsistent” with its mandate, he said, without elaborating.
“Understanding the origins of COVID-19 through a transparent and inclusive investigation is what must be done to meet the mandate,” Grigsby said.
The United Kingdom called for prioritising the probe, adding: “We expect the investigation and its outcomes to be grounded in robust science.”
Sun Yang, of China’s National Health Commission, did not mention the investigation in his speech on Tuesday but said China supported “WHO’s continued leadership role”.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn, speaking for the European Union on Monday, called for “full transparency and cooperation” during all phases of the investigation.
The WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said on October 30 that the WHO-led team and its Chinese counterparts had held a first virtual meeting regarding joint investigations and would deploy on the ground in time.