Australia has secured strong global backing for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus, with 62 nations coming together to co-sponsor a motion calling for the review at the World Health Assembly.
The new draft resolution updates an earlier EU version with significantly toughened language, and is backed by key nations including India, Japan, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia, Russia, and all 27 EU member states.
It demands WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “initiate at the earliest appropriate moment … a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the international response to the pandemic, the actions of the WHO and its “timeline” of the pandemic.
The international support for the motion will infuriate Beijing, which has threatened Australian beef and barley exports to China over the Morrison government’s pursuit of the probe.
The surging international support for the push comes amid growing economic and human devastation from the virus that has now infected more than 4.6 million people and killed more than 312,000.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the world wanted answers on the COVID-19 crisis to avoid similar disasters in the ¬future. “There is positive support for an independent review into the pandemic to help the world learn the lessons necessary to protect global health,” Senator Payne told The Australian.
“This is about collaborating to equip the international community to better prevent or counter the next pandemic and keep our citizens safe.”
The motion does not specifically include a reference to the ¬origins of the coronavirus, but sources said that was implicit in the demand for a “comprehensive” evaluation.
The reference to WHO’s own role will allow an examination of the body’s alleged slowness in ¬responding to the pandemic, as well as its praise for China’s response despite Beijing’s concealment of the virus during its crucial early weeks.
Health Minister Greg Hunt will argue Australia’s position in the online WHA meeting, with debate on the crucial motion expected in the early hours of Tuesday morning (AEST).
While the US is not a co-sponsor, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged all countries to join Australia’s call for answers on how the pandemic started.
Australia has been steadfast in its calls for an inquiry into the coronavirus since April 19, when Senator Payne first revealed Australia would push for the review in a move that sparked a diplomatic and trade backlash from Beijing.
China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, denounced the inquiry push as “dangerous” and predicted it would fail to gain traction among global leaders.
But Scott Morrison, who has pushed back against US claims that the virus might have escaped from a Wuhan laboratory, said last week the proposal was “completely unremarkable”.
“We are standing our ground on our values and the things that we know are always important,” the Prime Minister said.
He argued the proposed inquiry was not directed at any particular country, declaring: “We just want to know what happened so it doesn’t happen again. It’s a pretty honest question with an honest intent and an honest motive, and I’m seeing more and more support for that position”.
China has recently indicated it may support a review “at an appropriate time”, but hit out at what it says is politicisation of the virus’s origin “by the US and some other countries”, and an inquiry “based on the presumption of guilt”.
Lou, this is just one of numerous concepts being considered under which we would pay 10% of what we have been paying over many years, matching much lower China payments. Have not made final decision. All funds are frozen. Thanks! https://t.co/xQUzHy4NDa
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2020
Australia initially sought to ¬secure internal backing for the ¬inquiry by endorsing a relatively bland EU motion calling for the WHO to “plan for an evaluation” of the pandemic response. That motion has now been significantly strengthened, largely as a result of Australia’s lobbying. The motion has strong support on both sides of the parliament, along with a proposal for Taiwan to be granted ¬observer status at the meeting.
“It’s hard to imagine a good reason for any country to oppose Australia’s call for an inquiry at the World Health Assembly this week, or for that matter a seat at the table for Taiwan as a world leader in fighting the coronavirus,” Liberal MP James Paterson said.
The finalisation of the motion came as US President Donald Trump said he was considering restoring funding to the World Health Organisation, but only to the levels provided by China.
The White House froze US contributions to the agency last month over its support for China’s pandemic response. And Mr Trump said in a Twitter post that US payments could be 10 per cent of what the country had historically paid, “matching much lower China payments”.