Respected tour operator James Kwan identified as first Australian to die from COVID-19

Retired businessman James Kwan, 78, became the first person in Australia to die of coronavirus.

Retired businessman James Kwan, 78, became the first person in Australia to die of coronavirus. Photo: ABC/Australian Tourism Export Council

Retired Perth businessman James Kwan has been named as Australia’s first coronavirus fatality.

Tourism pioneer Mr Kwan, 78, was holidaying with his wife Theresa aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship when he tested positive for coronavirus.

He died from the infection in the early hours of Sunday morning at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth after several days in their intensive care ward.

“My husband passed away peacefully knowing that his family loved him,” Mrs Kwan said in a statement from hospital.

Mrs Kwan remains in a stable condition after she, too, was confirmed to have contracted the virus last week.

“As the numbers rise the deaths also rise,” Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly told ABC radio on Monday.

“Although, we must remember that over 80 per cent of the people that get this infection, it’s relatively mild.”

Mr Kwan’s death comes as the number of countries hit by the coronavirus climbed past 60, with infections and deaths mounting around the globe.

As of early Monday morning, more than 87,508 people worldwide had been infected, and 2990 had died of COVID-19.

A Melbourne woman who tested positive on Sunday after returning from Iran is the ninth confirmed case of coronavirus in Victoria.

NSW health authorities also confirmed the state’s fifth and six cases on the weekend as a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s, both of whom had returned to Sydney from Iran.

The woman flew back to Sydney via Qatar, arriving on Sunday February 23 on Qatar Airways Flight QR 908. The man diagnosed arrived in Sydney from Iran on February 22 but did not show any symptoms until two days later and was taken to hospital.

In Queensland, a 63-year-old Gold Coast beautician was confirmed as having the virus on Saturday after she arrived home from Iran last week.

On Sunday, the Morrison government banned flights to and from Iran amid concerns over the number of cases that can be traced back to the country.

Australian authorities believe Iran’s official virus figures are almost certainly underestimated, while the BBC’s Farsi service claims the death toll could be more than four times as high.

Iran’s health ministry has denied a cover-up.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship had around 3,700 people on board, with 10 passengers confirmed to be infected with coronavirus. Photo: Getty

Remembering James Kwan

The retired travel agent helped grow Perth’s inbound tourist numbers after he established Wel-Travel in 1988.

A close friend who did not want to be identified said Mr Kwan’s death was “really tragic” as he and his 79-year-old wife were “very much a hand-in-glove couple”.

“Wherever James was, Theresa was there to support him in the family business,” the friend told The Australian.

Mr Kwan was also a respected board member of the Australian Tourism Export Council.

Its managing director Peter Shelley said, “James was always smiling, and he gave a lot of time to the industry”.

“He broke a lot of new ground in the inbound tourism area, moving into places like Malaysia, China and Indonesia early on. It’s partly on his shoulders that an industry dedicated to bringing in international tourists has grown,” Mr Shelley told The Australian.

Prime minister Scott Morrison also expressed his condolences to Mr Kwan’s family, saying he was “very saddened” by the news.

Mr Kwan’s body could not defend itself against the virus as his immune response was most likely weakened due to the effects of ageing and the fact he would have suffered from other chronic conditions like many others in their late 70s, Chief Health Officer Dr Andrew Robertson said.

He added that the man’s death didn’t come as a surprise to doctors as it’s known COVID-19 can start off relatively mild before it progresses.

“It’s often the second week where people will deteriorate and get significant viral pneumonia,” Dr Robertson said, insisting there was no community risk as the man had been in isolation ever since he was diagnosed.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Morrison government has a national coronavirus plan with health authorities anticipating more cases.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy give an update on the coronavirus at a press conference on Friday. Photo: AAP

COVID-19 cases soar

In Italy, the number of people infected with coronavirus rose 40 per cent to 1576 in 24 hours.

Another five infected people have died, bringing the number of deaths in Italy to 34.

China, where the outbreak began two months ago, on Sunday reported a slight uptick in new cases over the past 24 hours to 573, the first time in five days that the number exceeded 500.

South Korea reported 210 additional cases and two more deaths from the virus, raising its totals to 3736 cases and 20 fatalities.

Many cases of the virus have been relatively mild, and some of those infected apparently show no symptoms at all. Photo: Getty

Iran’s death toll climbed to 54 as the number of confirmed cases jumped overnight by more than half, to 978 people.

The new figures represent 11 more deaths than reported on Saturday and 385 new cases.

Iraq’s Health Ministry announced the discovery of six more cases on Sunday, raising the total to 19 – all Iran-linked.

In the Czech Republic, three cases were reported, including a US citizen who was studying in Milan and had travelled to the Czech Republic on a tourist trip.

British health authorities said the number of people confirmed as infected rose by 12, bringing the country’s tally to 35, with one death.

-with AAP

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