An elderly Perth man has become the first person in Australia to die from the coronavirus after he contracted the virus aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Western Australia’s Chief Health Officer Dr Andrew Robertson on Sunday confirmed the 78-year-old died at Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in the early hours of the morning.
The man was diagnosed with COVID-19 about 10 days ago while in isolation at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory after being quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess and then flown out of Japan.
“Our condolences are with his family and unfortunately he is the first death we have had from coronavirus in Australia,” Dr Robertson told reporters in Perth on Sunday.
“He was in his late 70s, like many people in that age, they’re more likely to have other chronic conditions and it would obviously make being able to fight off this virus more difficult.”
He added that the elderly 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.
The chief medical officer said the man had been in isolation ever since he was diagnosed and insisted there was no risk to the community or hospital staff.
The man’s 79-year-old wife was also diagnosed with the virus a few days ago and is in a stable condition in the same hospital.
It’s not known if the man’s wife got the virus from her husband, but both were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, Dr Robertson said.
He insisted the man’s death did not change the status of COVID-19 in Australia but said authorities are expecting it to merge with the upcoming flu season.
Dr Robertson insisted there was no need for panic and that now was the time to prepare for an increasing number of cases in the future.
“We’ve realised it is likely we will get community spread in Australia at some stage in the next three to six months,” he said.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was with “great sadness” that he heard the Perth man died.
He noted the Morrison government had a national COVID-19 plan with health authorities across the country meeting daily to monitor the situation.
“With the international spread of this virus, it is almost inevitable that we will see more cases of COVID-19 in Australia in coming weeks,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
It comes as the government defends its decision to ban foreign visitors entering Australia from Iran to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, rather than South Korea which has a much higher level of cases.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Sunday said that of the 106 deaths that have been reported outside of China, 43 have been in Iran.
The new travel restrictions came in as NSW chief heath officer Kerry Chant on Sunday confirmed a fifth person in the state had contracted the virus, a man in his 40s who arrived in Sydney from Iran.
A 63-year-old Gold Coast beautician who returned to Australia from Iran on Monday, has also been diagnosed with the virus.
Australian Associated Press