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Australia seeks support from US, France, Germany for Covid-19 probe

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PM Scott Morrison seeks support for an investigation, but France says not now

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought support for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in phone calls with US President Donald Trump and the German and French leaders, Canberra said yesterday.

But French President Emmanuel Macron told him the urgency was to beat the pandemic before looking for who was at fault, a French official said.

Australia's push for an independent review of the origins and spread of the pandemic, including the response of the World Health Organisation (WHO), has drawn sharp criticism from China, which has accused Australian lawmakers of taking instructions from the US.

The coronavirus, believed to have emerged in a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, was first reported by China to the WHO on Dec 31.

WHO informed member states of the outbreak on Jan 5 and warned publicly a week later that there was "limited" human-to-human transmission.

WHO officials arrived in Wuhan on Jan 20, after the virus had spread to three other countries. It went on to declare a global emergency on Jan 30.

The virus has since infected some 2.3 million people and killed nearly 160,000.

Mr Morrison said on Twitter yesterday he had "a very constructive discussion" with Mr Trump on the responses to Covid-19 and the need to get economies up and running.

"We also talked about the WHO & working together to improve the transparency & effectiveness of the international responses to pandemics," he tweeted.

The White House has recently been critical of China and the WHO, and has withdrawn US funding from the UN agency.

Mr Morrison also spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Macron by phone about the role of the WHO, his office said.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly said the UN agency will evaluate its handling of the pandemic after it ends and draw the appropriate lessons, as it does after all emergencies.

Mr Macron told Mr Morrison now was not the time for an investigation.

"He says he agrees that there have been some issues at the start, but that the urgency is for cohesion, that it is no time to talk about this, while reaffirming the need for transparency for all players, not only the WHO," an official said.

In Berlin, the government confirmed Ms Merkel had spoken with Mr Morrison on Tuesday.

Last Friday, her spokesman said: "The coronavirus appeared first in China. China has suffered a lot from the virus and did a lot to fight against (it) spreading."

China's embassy in Canberra said in a statement that Australian lawmakers were acting as the mouthpiece of Mr Trump and "certain Australian politicians are keen to parrot what those Americans have asserted and simply follow them in staging political attacks on China".

Australia has recorded more than 6,600 cases of the virus, with four new cases yesterday. - REUTERS