Taiwan has recorded its first fatality from the novel coronavirus as the global death toll surpasses 1,770.

A 61-year-old male taxi driver with no recent overseas travel history or contact with confirmed virus patients died on Saturday evening, health minister Chen Shih-chung confirmed on Sunday.

Taiwan virus
Mask-clad commuters get off a train at a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stop in Taipei following the Lunar New Year holidays on January 30, 2020. Photo: Sam Yeh/AFP.

The patient, who had a history of Hepatitis B and diabetes, developed a cough and shortness of breath on January 27. He admitted himself into a hospital a week later where he was placed in isolation. He died from pneumonia and sepsis shortly after.

The man lived in central Taiwan and regularly came into contact with travellers from China, Macau and Hong Kong, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.

His death – the fifth outside of mainland China – prompted Taiwan authorities to expand the scope of its testing measures. Anyone with a fever and respiratory symptoms who travelled abroad during the past 14 days must undergo comprehensive medical examinations from Monday onwards, the Centre announced.

His brother also tested positive for the virus but was asymptomatic. The man in his 50s has been placed in a negative pressure isolation chamber for monitoring.

Chen Shih-chung
Chen Shih-chung. Photo: Wikicommons.

Over 71,000 people have been infected worldwide by the new strain. It has spread to more than two dozen countries and bears similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which killed almost 300 people in Hong Kong in 2003.

The two new cases brought the total number of confirmed infections in Taiwan to 20.

The Central Epidemic Command Center has said authorities will continue to track down the source of infection and notify those who have been in close contact with the patients.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.