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‘He died peacefully and knowing he was loved’: Wife of WA coronavirus victim remembers husband

Mr Kwan founded one of Perth’s first inbound tour companies, Wel-Travel, in 1988, and remained general manager as his son Edwin became managing director. The company is now one of the leading inbound travel companies in the country, with offices across Australia and Asia.

In a statement, Australian Tourism Export Council WA managing director Peter Shelley called James a “true pioneer” who had paved the way in developing important markets including Malaysia, Singapore, China, India and Indonesia, and whose family made a significant contribution to WA’s economy before expanding their business nationally.

Prior to founding Wel-Travel, he was the director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association. He helped establish the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore Trade Fair in Singapore, helped establish the entity that eventually became the Australian Tourism Export Council, and had served on the ATEC National Board and its Asian Tourism Advisory Panel.

“James was a measured and pragmatic man and was held in high regard by the inbound industry – particularly in his beloved home state of Western Australia,” Mr Shelley said.

“James was always willing to share his knowledge and help others in the industry grow, and often mentored young and aspiring members of the tourism industry.

“He was the life of many industry functions, very entertaining with his sense of humour and we will all miss his wry jokes and quick wit.

“We know there are many current and previous members of ATEC who will share in our gratitude to James for his vision and passion for our industry.

Tourism pioneer James Kwan has become the first Australian to die from coronavirus.

Tourism pioneer James Kwan has become the first Australian to die from coronavirus.

“We are thinking of [Theresa] at this difficult time. We send our heartfelt condolences to Theresa, Edwin and the extended Kwan family.”

Mr Kwan was also a keen golfer and a long-term member of The Vines golf club in Perth’s Swan Valley, which also paid tribute to Mr Kwan.

“James will be dearly missed around the club. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Theresa,” the club’s statement said.

“Thank you James for your generosity over many years, especially with the Asian Connection Days. Fond memories. Keep swinging.”

WA vulnerable to virus outbreak

Hours earlier and just days after warning West Australia could see “tens of thousands” of people hospitalised with coronavirus, Dr Andrew Miller, the head of WA’s Australian Medical Association, warned the state was “particularly vulnerable” to an outbreak of the virus.

“It’s a very sad wake up call,” Dr Miller said. “Our sympathies go out to his family.”

He said far from having a “she’ll be okay” attitude, Australians needed to prepare “very seriously” for a potential coronavirus outbreak, and said people need to have a plan and to think about those who were most vulnerable around them.

James Kwan was flown to Perth on Friday where he was being treated in the intensive care unit at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. He died on Sunday morning.

James Kwan was flown to Perth on Friday where he was being treated in the intensive care unit at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. He died on Sunday morning.Credit:Nine News

“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.

Healthcare workers at risk

“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 professionals in general practice were feeling “particularly vulnerable” at the moment, with GPs not having the “proper equipment yet to fully deal with any number of patients turning up with this disease”.

And with WA hospitals already at breaking point, according to Dr Miller, there was a need to triple the state’s emergency department capacity.

“We probably haven’t seen a virus like this particular one since about 1918,” he said.

Silent carriers ‘biggest risk’

Dr Miller said it wasn’t the identified cases which posed the biggest risk, but people who carried the virus but came into the state because they showed no symptoms.

“We are not worried about the identified cases, the ones being looked after at the moment. 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.

Dr Miller said he had concerns that a coronavirus outbreak could hit WA at the same time as the usual flu season and that this would “complicate matters” when it came to diagnosing the virus.

He suggested people prepare to get vaccinated for influenza, even if they had never done so previously, with a specific vaccine for coronavirus likely to still be “months away”.

Premier warns of panic

Premier Mark McGowan expressed his condolences to the man’s family over this “tragic event” in “very distressing” circumstances.

“I pass on my best to his wife who is still in hospital,” he said.

Mr McGowan confirmed West Australians should not panic and continue life as usual, with no need to walk down the street wearing face masks.

In response to questions about whether WA hospitals were prepared, he said the Health Department was working with them as well as general practices to be best prepared for an increase in patients.

“Our health system is putting in pace various plans that they have on the shelf to increase and improve capacity for these events,” he said. “Obviously as the situation develops those plans will be rolled out.”

WA Shadow Health Minister Zak Kirkup “implored” the state government to start a “widespread public information and advertising campaign in relation to the coronavirus disease”.

“This campaign should inform Western Australians as to how we can best prepare for, prevent and respond to any potential outbreak,” he said.

“The public should also be fully informed about how our health system is preparing to respond to any coronavirus cases, and who people can turn to if they are worried that they may be infected.”

Both Victoria and New South Wales confirmed new coronavirus cases on Sunday, bringing Australia’s total number of cases to 27.

More than 2940 people are reported to have died from coronavirus worldwide, with around 86,000 people diagnosed with the virus.

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