SYDNEY—All member nations of the World Health Organization (WHO) should support a proposed independent review into the CCP virus pandemic, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, further threatening strained ties with China.
Australia has become one of the most forceful critics of Beijing for its handling of the spread of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, with Morrison urging several world leaders to support an international inquiry into its origins and spread, as well as the WHO’s response.
The COVID-19 outbreak originated in China and has since spread to infect some 2.3 million people globally and killed nearly 160,000, according to Reuters calculations, though the figures are skewed because of incomplete data from China.
Morrison said all members of the WHO should be obliged to participate in a review, adding that Australia would push for the inquiry during the WHO Assembly on May 17.
“We’d like the world to be safer when it comes to viruses… I would hope that any other nation, be it China or anyone else, would share that objective,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, but diplomatic ties have frayed in recent years amid allegations Beijing has committed cyber-attacks and has attempted to interfere in Canberra’s domestic affairs.
Australia’s calls for an inquiry will win favour with the White House—which has been critical of China and the World Health Organization’s handling of the pandemic, and has withdrawn U.S. funding from the U.N. agency.
There also seems to be less enthusiasm for an inquiry in Europe, with both France and Britain saying now is not the time to apportion blame.
Germany’s Angela Merkel said Thursday that the WHO is an “indispensable partner” and the country supports its mandate.
Morrison’s comments came just hours after a senior Australian government official called on G20 nations to end wildlife wet markets over concerns they pose a threat to human health and agricultural markets.
The outbreak in China was thought to have started in a wet market in the city of Wuhan.
China imposed a temporary ban on selling wildlife on Jan. 23 and is now reviewing its legislation to restrict commercial wild animal trading on a permanent basis.
Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said on Thursday he had asked government officials from the Group of 20 major economies to back a plan to end wildlife wet markets.
U.S. officials have also called for wildlife wet markets across Asia to be closed. Wet markets exist throughout Asia selling fresh vegetables, seafood, and meat, with some also selling exotic animals.
Australia’s call for global action comes as it successfully slows the spread of the CCP virus, with new infections well below 1 percent a day. Australia has about 6,600 cases of COVID-19 and 76 deaths.
Around a third of Australia’s cases can be traced to cruise liners and one ship, the Ruby Princess owned by Carnival Corp., is responsible for about 10 percent of cases.
Authorities granted the Ruby Princess permission to disembark its 2,700 passengers last month without health checks, and police are how investigating whether the ship’s operators knowingly let COVID-19 patients disembark.
The Ruby Princess, which has been in Australia since March, is expected to depart on Thursday with just crew, though it is unclear where it will go.
By Colin Packham
NTD staff contributed to this report.