At 9:30 a.m. every day this week, a soft-spoken official has appeared on North Korean television to report the number of people with fever and new deaths, and to explain measures to stop North Korea's first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak.

The little-known official, Ryu Yong Chol, has become the public face of the isolated country's battle against the coronavirus, the equivalent of U.S. COVID-19 czar Dr. Anthony Fauci or the director of South Korea's disease prevention agency, Jeong Eun-kyeong.

For more than two years, with its borders sealed, North Korea did not report a single case of COVID-19, which skeptics abroad suggested was more a reflection of its traditional state secrecy than a real absence of the coronavirus.