Satellite photos of Iran suggest that there is a significant death toll in the country from coronavirus already.
Images captured from space appear to show "burial trenches" the size of a football field.
As of Friday 13 March, Iran has over 10,000 confirmed cases. While 3,276 people have recovered, the death toll currently stands at 429 lives. As the fourth worst-affected nation after China, South Korea and Italy, many senior officials including the country’s Health Minister have been confirmed as having the virus.
There are suspicions, however, that there may be many more people with the virus that either haven’t been tested, or the government hasn’t reported.
At the time the trenches were being dug on 24 February, a legislator accused the Health Ministry of "lying" about the scale of the outbreak. He claimed there had already been 50 deaths in the city, despite the health ministry claiming only 12 people had died from the virus in the whole country.
Satellite images provided to the Washington Post by Maxar technologies – a Colorado-based technology company – show two trenches that look hurriedly constructed in a cemetery.
The trenches are in Qom, Iran’s seventh largest city, located around 140km south of the capital Tehran. Considered holy in Shia Islam, it is the largest center for Shia scholarship in the world,. Traditional Islamic burials involve washing the body with soap and water before burial, though fears of COVID-19 could be impacting medical workers and family members’ willingness to do this.
Calcium oxide – lime – is thought to be being used to treat the bodies so they don’t infect the soil with the virus.
A large pile of what looks like lime can be seen next to the trenches.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki recently told Iranian TV:
Stay at home. Don’t go shopping. You are making our job more difficult by ignoring the advice.
With the worsening health crisis, Iran has urged the USA to ease sanctions imposed by the Trump administration after exiting the 2015 nuclear deal.
The sanctions are thought to be hindering imports of medicines and food Iran needs to fight a major outbreak of the coronavirus. End sanctions against Iran. Lives are at stake. These people need access to resources that will save countless lives. This is a nightmare.
Lifting sanctions is thought to potentially have an impact on Iran’s ability to save the lives of those infected.