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Scott Morrison says victims of Covid-19 devastation deserve answers about whether virus originated in Wuhan lab

Scott Morrison has issued a challenge to China over the origins of Covid-19, saying the world ‘deserves’ answers on how the virus got out.

Australia will continue to push for answers the world “deserves” over the origins of Covid-19 despite pushback from China, the Prime Minister says.

Scott Morrison held firm on Australia’s probing approach to China despite significant backlash from the global power.

“Those who have lost their lives and their livelihoods, they deserve answers, and Australia will continue to ask to get those answers,” Mr Morrison said after national cabinet on Friday.

World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus backflipped on Thursday, saying the organisation was premature to rule out that a leak from a lab in Wuhan could have caused Covid-19 pandemic.

Relations between Australia and China have deteriorated over the past 18 months, seemingly sparked by Australia’s push for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus.

The move angered Beijing, where state media labelled Australia “gum stuck on the bottom of China’s shoe” and even suggested Covid-19 arrived in Wuhan via frozen Australian meat.

But Mr Morrison insisted “no politics” fuelled Australia’s move, claiming its questions were made in good faith.

“Australia has always simply wanted to know for the sake of world health … what happened?” he said.

The Prime Minister emphasised the need for answers amid the devastating fallout of a pandemic that “destroyed the lives of millions”.

“The world needs answers to this. The world deserves answers to this,” he urged.

But Mr Morrison dropped no hints over his own thoughts about where the virus originated.

“We don’t know about the lab and whether that was the initiation of this or not. It may well have been, it may not have been,” he said.

“I don’t have a view either way and I’m not in a position to make that judgment.”

Some of the world’s top scientists have now gone public stating there is “overwhelming” evidence Covid-19 was created in a Wuhan lab. In an explosive opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in June, Dr Steven Quay and Professor Richard Muller said the chance the virus emerged naturally in animals in China was “one in a million”.

Dr Quay, the chief executive of pharmaceutical company Atossa Therapeutics, said a key piece of evidence pointing to a lab leak was the fact that when the virus first appeared, it was already extremely contagious. Dr Quay said this was unusual given viruses usually evolved as they spread through a population until the most contagious form dominated.

America’s top virus expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has also said he is “not convinced” the virus developed naturally, calling for more proof to be presented that the virus did not start at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology where coronavirus research was being conducted on bats.

But questioning China has not come without consequences for Australia.

The Australian-China trade war has reached fever pitch in recent months with China slapping a number of Australian industries with devastating tariffs. Australia has since lodged a complaint against China to the World Trade Organisation for imposing tariffs of up to 218 per cent on Australian wine exports.

Mr Morrison’s comments came after Victoria was forced into a snap lockdown overnight, and as NSW’s restrictions are set to extend indefinitely.

A plan to make emergency Covid-19 payments bigger and easier to access from the outset, announced by the Prime Minister on Thursday, was also rubber-stamped by national cabinet.

And as Australia struggled to bring the highly contagious Delta strain under control, Mr Morrison confirmed pharmacists would also play a greater role in the national rollout.

But he said they would be only be brought online once vaccine supply increased.

“There is no point having more points of presence with a static amounts of supply. That just increases the logistic difficulty,” he said.

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