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Monday May 18 2020

Premature to immediately begin coronavirus investigation, says China

People wearing face masks are seen at Wuhan Railway Station, in Wuhan, the Chinese city hit the hardest by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the Hubei province, China. Photo: Reuters

China has said it was premature to immediately launch an investigation into the origins and spread of the coronavirus after calls for an international investigation into the pandemic.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during a daily briefing that the vast majority of countries in the world believe the pandemic is not yet over.

The ministry said in a separate statement that President Xi Jinping will give a video speech for the opening ceremony of the World Health Assembly later on Monday.

Australia welcomes growing support for COVID-19 inquiry at WHO meeting

A draft resolution pushed by the European Union and Australia calling for an independent review into the origins and spread of the coronavirus has support from 116 nations at the World Health Assembly, almost enough for it to pass, a document showed.

The resolution on COVID-19 will be put forward on Tuesday if it gains backing from two-thirds of the 194 members of the assembly, the governing body of the World Health Organisation. China had strongly opposed Australia's call last month for an international investigation into the pandemic.

Names on a draft resolution seen by Reuters on Monday showed support from 116 members was locked in, although Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said negotiations were ongoing and she did not want to pre-empt the outcome.

The resolution was "an important part of the conversation we started, and I am very grateful to the efforts of those in the European Union and those many drafters who have been part of the negotiations for the past few weeks," she told reporters.

The resolution was comprehensive and included a call for "an examination of the zoonotic origins of the coronavirus", she added.

More than 4.64 million people are reported to have been infected globally and 310,236 have died from the flu-like virus that emerged from China late last year.

Australia — which has reported only 99 deaths from the novel coronavirus — says it wants to prevent a repeat of the pandemic that has paralysed economic activity around the world, and is not looking to cast blame.

"I hope that China will participate," Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said on Monday as he welcomed building support for an inquiry.

Among the co-sponsors of the resolution are India, Japan, South Korea, the African group of 47 member nations, Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Britain and Canada.

The resolution calls for "scientific and collaborative field missions" to trace the path of transmission, saying this will reduce the risk of similar events.

It also says a review should start at the "earliest appropriate moment". Some countries still suffering high daily death tolls from COVID-19 have said it is too soon for an investigation.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a media conference it was "natural that after such a significant event, we would want to take a look at what we should all have learned from this experience".

Trade tensions 

Birmingham said he has been unable to schedule a phone call with his Chinese counterpart, Zhong Shan, to discuss trade friction, including China's suspension of Australian beef imports and a dumping investigation into Australian barley that could see an 80% tariff imposed on Tuesday.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said he had not had a reply to his request for a call with his Chinese counterpart.

In Beijing, Zhong said the two countries were in communication.

Last month, China's ambassador to Australia warned of a boycott by Chinese consumers if Australia pursued an investigation, prompting Australian ministers to accuse China of "economic coercion".