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THERE ARE no daily news conferences about covid-19 in Yemen, no charts or maps or deluge of data. There are barely any tests. But there are bodies. Silently but steadily the virus has taken root in the Arab world’s poorest country. Its spread can be glimpsed in anecdotes from doctors and snippets on social media. In one city aid agencies say gravediggers work overtime to keep up with the dead, most of them middle-aged men. In another city doctors who talk about the pandemic are threatened with arrest or worse.
If you judge by the official numbers, Yemen has largely been spared. It has reported just 419 coronavirus infections and 95 deaths. But no one believes those numbers. Ravaged by years of war, the health-care system has all but collapsed. Authorities lack the ability to track the outbreak—and in parts of the country, they do not want to.
Yemen was singularly ill prepared for a pandemic. Even now, after shipments of extra supplies, it has just 675 intensive-care beds and 309 ventilators, says the UN. Hospitals and clinics have been bombed throughout a five-year war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, a Shia militant group. Medical staff have fled the country, leaving one in six of Yemen’s…