Australia wants WHO to have same powers of weapons inspectors

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By Anthony Galloway

Australia will lead a push for the World Health Organisation to be given the same powers as weapons inspectors to forcibly enter a country to avoid a repeat of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The move would overhaul the operation of the world health body, which currently doesn’t have the power to go into a country to investigate a disease outbreak unless it has the express consent of that nation’s government.

The WHO has come under criticism for not alerting the world sooner to the global pandemic through most of January, and has faced allegations from senior politicians in Australia and the United States that it was too close to China.

The Australian government quietly lost faith in the WHO’s global headquarters in late January and early February for uncritically repeating advice from the Chinese government.

The government still values the work of the WHO, particularly the Western Pacific division, and has no plans to follow United States President Donald Trump in defunding the UN body.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne are instead pushing for a global review into the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, including the WHO’s performance.

Mr Morrison discussed the review with US President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning, while he also spoke with President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday night.

Although only a middle power on the world stage, the Morrison government is looking to use its likely suppression of the virus to champion a global independent review, with an understanding that many bigger countries will still be battling major outbreaks for months.

Mr Morrison and Senator Payne want the review to probe how the virus started and recommend how the WHO can reform.

The Australian government will advocate for WHO officials to be given similar powers to UN weapons inspectors so they don’t have to negotiate with a country to go in and investigate a public health crisis. This would allow the WHO to alert the world about a global pandemic sooner.

The government does not hold faith in the WHO, or its decision-making body the World Health Assembly, to lead a probe into the pandemic. One option being floated is for the UN to appoint an independent investigator.

Australia did not sponsor a UN resolution put forward by Mexico calling for international cooperation in the response to COVID-19, but senior government sources said it did not oppose the motion.

The resolution was co-sponsored by 179 states and was adopted by the UN General Assembly without going to a vote.
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