Western Australian tourism stalwart James Kwan is the first Australian to die from coronavirus.
The 78-year-old contracted the virus while on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship with this wife Theresa, who has also tested positive to the virus.
The couple were evacuated from Darwin earlier this month and arrived back in Perth on February 21 to be treated in isolation at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
Dr Andrew Miller, the head of WA’s Australian Medical Association, said the state was “particularly vulnerable” to an outbreak of the virus, calling Kwan’s death a “very sad wake up call”.
“The likelihood is once you have this disease it follows the course,” Dr Miller said.
“What we’re seeing is that it can be quite mild for the first week or so, and then [patients] go downhill from there, especially for people aged over 65 or 70 who seem to be the ones getting most sick from it.
“We know that in China there’s been thousands of healthcare workers, despite the best personal protective equipment – the masks and so on being deployed very early there – we know there are thousands of them who have got this disease, and sadly some of them have succumbed to it.
“Anyone who cares for these patients needs to have the best equipment and the best facilities available to them to avoid higher risk than is necessary.”
Dr Miller said it was people who carried the virus without showing any symptoms that were the biggest threat.
“We are not worried about the identified cases, the ones being looked after at the moment,” he said.
“It’s the ones that might pop up in the community who have been travelling, like it happened in Queensland where someone came back from Iran, had no symptoms at the time they arrived, and now we possibly have some escape of the virus into the community because of that.
“That’s the way it’s likely to pop up in West Australia.”
Premier Mark McGowan expressed his condolences to Kwan’s family, but urged West Australians not to panic.
“It’s a significant day for Australia because the first case of someone passing away from this illness has taken place here in Western Australia,” he said.
“Our health system is putting in pace various plans that they have on the shelf to increase and improve capacity for these events.
“Obviously as the situation develops those plans will be rolled out.”
The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia stands at 27.