The Australian government has again played down suggestions the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese lab.
Relations between Beijing and Canberra have deteriorated badly since Australia called for an international, independent inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, in a development that will likely further agitate China, a professor of medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide claimed the virus showed some hallmarks of being lab-grown.
But during a media briefing today, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Prof. Nikolai Petrovsky’s research did not tally with Australian intelligence.
“What that [difference] emphasises is the importance of a comprehensive investigation,” Mr Hunt insisted.
“The more we know about the earliest origins, the more we are able to trace back to the likely source.
“We know it originated in Wuhan, the first detected case was in the wet market.
“As to the precise origins of transfer, that is for the disease detectives.”
Mr Hunt said “the overwhelming advice” given to Federal Government was that the coronavirus likely came from animals to humans.
In recent weeks China has declared war on Australia’s beef and barley industries, imposing tough bans and tariffs.
Hunt refutes over-reaction theory
Mr Hunt said Australia’s best chance of warding off the coronavirus threat was to remain hypervigilant of the global risk.
Worldwide cases are fast closing in on 6 million, and countries like Brazil are now being hit hard by the virus.
There have been 102 deaths in Australia from just over 7000 confirmed cases.
The country has been shut down for weeks, causing huge job losses, in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.
Despite the relatively small numbers of deaths and cases, Australia had not overestimated the risk the deadly coronavirus posed to the country, Mr Hunt said.
He said people should just look abroad to see “the speed of spread, the extent of contagion” and the devastation it can cause.
“What we have done is planned for the worst and been able to deliver the best,” he said.
“It shows what we have avoided in Australia could have been catastrophic on a scale unimagined.
“Australians would have suffered not just an outbreak of disease, but huge human suffering, economic suffering.”
Mental health gets further $20m boost
The Federal Government today pledged another $20 million for mental health, as Australia braces for an increase in anxiety, suicide and depression.
Mr Hunt said small business owners are feeling “the weight of cash flow” issues and many Australian families were struggling with mortgage pressures.
A large portion of the $20 million pledged towards Australia’s mental health system will focus on men and suicide.
Some experts fear the coronavirus could lead to a significant increase in suicides, particularly among Indigenous and multicultural communities.
Jury still out on international students
Federal and state governments are now planning how to bring international students back to Australia.
According to research, the nation’s universities are estimated to lose around $3 billion to $4.6 billion in revenue from international student fees in 2020 alone.
“We’re looking at things such as the capacity for international students to come back through quarantine,” Mr Hunt said.
“Some of the states have already begun to put forward proposals for mandatory supervised self-paid quarantine in order to help bring back international students at the same time as Australian students.”
He said how to safely return international students onto campuses and into the economy were “important questions”.
Last week 177,000 Australians were tested for coronavirus, more than 25,000 a day on average.
There were just six new cases in the country over the past 24 hours.
Australia has one of lowest positivity rates for coronavirus in the world, Mr Hunt declared.
The government’s COVID-19 track and trace app has been downloaded 6,027,000 times.
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