• JIJI, KYODO

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Union leaders on Tuesday backed an independent probe into the World Health Organization’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and the need for carrying out reforms to the international body.

In their first online summit, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said they are sparing no effort to halt the pandemic, but an effective multiparty approach is crucial in fighting the virus.

In regards to an independent probe, the leaders called for improving the global response to future pandemics via the Geneva-based body and other entities, a senior Japanese government official said.

In Tuesday’s video meeting, the leaders welcomed the adoption last week during the WHO’s assembly of a resolution calling for an independent investigation into the organization’s coronavirus response and identifying the source of the virus.

The WHO has become the target of criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has accused the organization of being China-centric in tackling the crisis.

Last week, Trump even threatened to leave the WHO unless it commits to major reforms within the following 30 days.

The leaders recognized that “global solidarity, cooperation and effective multilateralism are required more than ever to defeat the virus as well as to ensure economic recovery,” they said in a joint statement released after the conference.

The Japanese and EU leaders stressed the need for global collaboration to develop treatment drugs and vaccines and make them available and affordable to all, saying that a future COVID-19 vaccine should be a “global common good.”

The pandemic has infected over 5.3 million people and claimed the lives of more than 340,000 around the globe, according to the WHO.

After weeks of hard lockdowns, France, Italy and Spain — key EU members hit hard by the virus — have begun easing their restrictions.

Japan, which had asked people to stay home and some businesses to shut voluntarily, completely ended its state of emergency on Monday as the spread of infections had sufficiently slowed.

The viral outbreak has depressed the global economy with travel restrictions imposed and supply chains disrupted.

Japan and the European Union have been strengthening their ties in recent years, with a free trade agreement that entered into force in 2019.

Their leaders are committed to the Japan-EU strategic partnership that will play “an important role” in recovering from the effects of COVID-19, the joint statement said.

Abe and the EU leaders also agreed to work together for the success of a summit of the Group of Seven major industrial nations in late June, set to be hosted by the United States.

Abe said that he plans to propose at the summit the establishment of a system for integral management of patents for drugs for the novel coronavirus. The videoconference was held at the request of the EU side.

The G7 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. The EU also takes part in G7 gatherings.

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