Man becomes first Australian to die as coronavirus spreads

The woman became unwell last Thursday while travelling to Melbourne from Tehran, via Kuala Lumpur and Bali.

She travelled on Malindo Air flight OD177 and landed in Melbourne early on Friday morning.

The woman is recovering in isolation at home.

Earlier, a Victorian man who was on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship became the eighth confirmed case in the state.

In NSW,  two people in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus could be the first person-to-person transmissions in Australia if their tests show they have contracted the virus.

A man in his 40s was diagnosed with COVID-19 following recent travel from Iran, NSW Health said on  Sunday morning. The man isolated himself as soon as he became unwell, has relatively mild symptoms and is being treated under quarantine at Westmead Hospital.

Six people who were in close contact with the man have also been quarantined.

Of those six, two had symptoms of a mild respiratory illness and were being assessed at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital as a precaution while they awaited test results, a NSW Health spokesperson said.

The man with the confirmed case of COVID-19 became unwell two days after arriving in Australia, and is not considered to have been infectious on his flight. “There is no indication to suggest that anyone on the flight is at risk from this case,” the spokesperson said.

Another man in his 50s is also under investigation in Sydney for possible COVID-19 and is being cared for in hospital.

Health authorities are reconsidering travel advice to Italy as cases of the coronavirus spiked to more than 1100 and eight more deaths were recorded, bringing the death toll to 29 in the worst cluster of cases outside Asia.

Economists are warning federal stimulus measures worth up to tens of billions of dollars will be needed to prop up Australian companies because of the coronavirus.

The man who died in Perth was evacuated to Western Australia with his wife from a quarantine centre in Darwin on February 21.

The couple were two of 164 Australians flown out of Japan and placed in isolation after being quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama.

The first Australian death came as the number of infections in Australia surged to 28, with new cases in Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

The 78-year-old West Australian man who died on Sunday was flown to Perth on Friday.

The 78-year-old West Australian man who died on Sunday was flown to Perth on Friday.Credit:Nine News

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was developing a “targeted, modest and scaleable” response for industries and regions hit most by the outbreak.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said the problem for Australia was that its economy was already struggling to some degree before the bushfires and coronavirus came along.

“The case for a broad-based stimulus, I think, is significant now. And the other problem is if they don’t do something, all the pressure falls on the RBA,” he said.

As the death toll and infection rate rose rapidly in northern Italy, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday that he had asked health authorities to consider the appropriate level of travel advice for the European country.

Mr Hunt said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee was meeting daily and reviewing travel advice.

“I have asked them specifically today as part of their work to consider what the appropriate level of advice is for Italy,” Mr Hunt said.

“The good thing is, they make advice, they give advice, without fear or favour, and we have implemented it without fear or favour. But I have specifically asked them today to consider whether or not the current arrangements need to be changed in any way, shape or form.”

The Morrison government put a travel ban on people coming from Iran from Sunday because of the country’s “high death rate” from coronavirus as it tries to stem the flow of the disease into Australia.

But Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy played down the likelihood of more bans on Saturday for other countries, explaining “it’s not possible to further isolate Australia”, and that the focus should be on detection and containment instead.

The death of the first Australian at home threatens to increase public panic. However, WA’s Chief Health Officer, Andrew Robertson, said it “doesn’t change anything for the status of coronavirus”.

“We always knew it would be a serious virus, especially for the elderly,” Mr Robertson said.

He said the man’s wife remained in a stable condition in hospital, and had the chance to speak to her husband last night before he died.

Dr Robertson said the man’s age had made fighting off the virus “a bit more difficult” but would not go into details about the man’s medical history.


The man was placed in isolation on arrival in Perth and there was no risk to the general community or the nursing staff who attended him, he said.

“I’m very confident there. He was in a negative-pressure room and then in intensive care and they were confident the protective equipment they were using was more than adequate.”

The Prime Minister tweeted that he was saddened by the man’s death.

“We join his family and friends in mourning his passing. COVID-19 is especially more severe for older people with other frailties,” Mr Morrison said.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the “sudden surge” of deaths in Iran was the significant concern which led to a travel ban and it was distinct from the situation in Italy and South Korea.

“Of the 106 deaths that are reported outside of China, 43 of those have been in Iran, so  that’s the highest number of deaths,” Mr Dutton told the ABC’s Insiders program.

“As the Chief Medical Officer has pointed out, it’s not possible to extend the ban to every country and we’ll see what phase we move into next, but there’s particular concern about the lack of reporting out of Iran, the very high death rate.

“If you look at the under-reporting, or the lack of reporting, coming out of Iran to start with, I think, indicated that there was a real concern as to whether they had a handle on the numbers, and I think … the numbers we’re talking about relative to South Korea or elsewhere at the moment are potentially well underestimated.”

Mr Dutton also said the Australian Border Force commissioner has a number of powers to deal with planes coming from countries with outbreaks if someone arrived with coronavirus – including blocking a plane from disembarking.


“If he [the Border Force commissioner] believes there’s grounds to do so, but that would be highly unlikely,” he said.

“The more likely nature would be that those who are seated around the person that’s sick would be identified, would be tested.

“We need to recognise now that this has spread to 61 countries outside of China. So it’s a very serious development.”

With Anthony Galloway and Darren Gray

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