Taiwan reports first COVID-19 death

Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC, 中央流行疫情指揮中心) Chief Commander Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) attends a press conference on Feb. 16, 2020. (CNA)
Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC, 中央流行疫情指揮中心) Chief Commander Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) attends a press conference on Feb. 16, 2020. (CNA)

TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) — Taiwan reported its first novel coronavirus death on Sunday, fueling fears of in-community transmission.

The deceased was a 61-years-old man who had not been to China, nor had he had contact with any confirmed COVID-19 cases. He was diabetic and had hepatitis B.

According to the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC, 中央流行疫情指揮中心), the man operated as a taxi driver though without a valid license.

He frequently drove travelers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, in his private car around central Taiwan, which the center believes is how he contracted the virus.

“Investigation is ongoing to pin down the source of infection,” Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC,疾管署) Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said at a press conference. It should take a maximum three days to complete.

Per the CECC, the driver began coughing on Jan. 27, and was admitted to the hospital on Feb. 3 due to hyperventilation. He was diagnosed of regular pneumonia at the time.

Epidemic response officials only learned of his infection after the CECC decided on Feb. 12 to track down patients who had symptoms of severe flu but tested negative of it since Jan. 31 and check them for COVID-19, Chuang said.

Of the 113 cases examined, all but one came back positive — the taxi driver.

Upon receipt of the result, he was immediately moved to a negative pressure isolation room on last Saturday (Feb. 15), but died of sepsis triggered by pneumonia on the same day, Chuang said.

Sixty out of 73 people that were in close contact with the deceased, including caregivers, medical staff and family and friends, 60 have been tested negative of the virus.

The remaining results are pending.

His body will be cremated as per the Communicable Disease Control Act (傳染病防治法), but the CECC will keep specimens for research purposes, Chuang said.

The man’s younger brother has been found to have contracted the novel coronavirus, but has shown no symptoms.

CECC Chief Commander Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said that this might be the beginning of in-community transmission in Taiwan but urged residents not to panic as more investigation is required before drawing this conclusion.

In Taiwan, there are 20 confirmed coronavirus cases to date. Two people have been discharged from the hospital after being tested free of the virus.

***This article was updated on Feb. 17 to reflect that the deceased man did not hold a valid taxi driver license.