Sydney: Australia’s prime minister called Thursday for the World Health Organisation to be given powers similar to UN-backed weapons inspectors, allowing their experts to enter virus-stricken countries to help prevent future pandemics.

WHO member countries should be required to allow independent health inspectors to investigate new virus outbreaks within their borders as a condition of membership, Scott Morrison said.

Enabling these officials to mobilise quickly and carry out assessments like “weapons inspectors” could help save lives, he added.

“If you’re going to be a member of a club like the World Health Organisation, there should be obligations and responsibilities attached to that,” Morrison told reporters.

“I would think that the ability to understand what’s happening in a particularly dangerous virus that has the potential to do what this virus has done to the world, people would want to know that information sooner rather than later.”

Morrison reportedly raised the issue on calls with several world leaders this week, including US President Donald Trump, who has warned that China could face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the coronavirus pandemic.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday pressed China to allow inspectors into sensitive laboratories, voicing concern about their security amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Pompeo has refused to rule out that the deadly virus leaked out of a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a scenario strenuously denied by Beijing.

The pandemic has killed more than 180,000 people and infected 2.6 million worldwide, and nations are struggling to check its spread with social distancing measures and lockdowns.

Australia had already started pushing for an independent investigation into the global response to the contagion, including the WHO’s handling of the crisis and China’s early response to the outbreak in Wuhan, where Covid-19 emerged late last year.

Morrison’s government has grown increasingly vocal on the issue, with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton this week calling for more transparency from China over the contagion’s origins and spread.

That drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing, with a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Canberra saying Tuesday that certain Australian politicians were “keen to parrot” US assertions that aimed to “shift blame and deflect attention by smearing China”.