Coronavirus Australia: Scott Morrison pressures WHO as China re-opens wet markets
The World Health Organisation has backed the reopening of China’s notorious wet markets, prompting calls from Scott Morrison for greater “transparency” from the UN body on the causes of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Despite strong evidence the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan wet market, the WHO said it did not support the closure of the markets “because they are a source of livelihood and food security to many people”.
But the Prime Minister said he was not yet satisfied that wet markets could be made safe, and warned the WHO must play a central role in ensuring the world did not face a repeat of COVID-19.
“Australia and the world will be looking to organisations like the WHO to ensure lessons are learned from the devastating coronavirus outbreak,” Mr Morrison told The Australian.
“There must be transparency in understanding how it began in Wuhan and how it was transmitted. We also need to fully understand and protect against the global health threat posed by places like wet markets.”
The call represents an escalation in Australian government pressure on the WHO, after earlier calls by Mr Morrison for the global body to “do something” about wet markets. It follows global criticism of the WHO’s response to the pandemic, including accusations its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, allowed China to under-report the impact of the virus in Wuhan.
As China’s wet markets reopen, the WHO told The Australian the facilities could be made safe with proper regulation. “With adequate facilities, proper regulation and good hygiene practices it is possible to have safe food sold in wet markets,” the WHO’s Western Pacific regional headquarters said.
But Australian MPs from both sides of politics condemned the advice, saying the markets — which also gave rise to SARS in 2003 — presented a risk to the world.
“Are we really to believe the Chinese Communist Party can’t eradicate wet markets?” Liberal MP Andrew Hastie said. “They can build artificial islands in the South China Sea, in the face of international opposition. Closing the wet markets should be child’s play by comparison. It’s a question of will.”
Mr Hastie, chair of the parliament’s intelligence and security committee, said the WHO’s advice was dubious “after the way they handled the pandemic”.
Liberal senator James Paterson said China needed to get its “house in order” if it wanted to be a global leader. “Allowing bad hygiene and poor food handling practices to flourish despite years of warnings about the danger to human health does not meet that test,” he said.
Labor MP Peter Khalil said it was “preposterous” to claim the markets could be made safe.
“Unless they can demonstrate that the regulations, the health and safety measures, are so strict that they can completely cut off the risk factors, they’re going to have to shut them down. It’s happened with SARS. It’s happened with avian influenza. It’s happened with COVID-19. Next time it might be an even worse virus.”
Scientists found coronaviruses close to the one that causes COVID-19 in horseshoe bats and pangolins, an endangered anteater, found at Chinese wet markets.
But the WHO said it was satisfied the Chinese government was up to the challenge of cleaning up the country’s wet markets. “The government of China banned the trade of wildlife and strengthened hygiene standards in local wet markets in February,’’ it said.
President Donald Trump has railed against the WHO, declaring the US would “put a hold on money” for the organisation.