New satellite photos show the coronavirus crisis in Iran is likely much worse than its government is letting on — or, at least, that the country’s leaders are preparing for the worst.
The pictures, taken on March 1 by the private space technology company Maxar Technologies, were first reported by the New York Times. The images show two large burial trenches recently dug at a cemetery outside Qom, Iran’s religious capital. The reason for the roughly 100 yards of new burial space is macabre: the country is going through a deadly outbreak of the disease that may only be growing larger.
Iran has about 10,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of March 12, but there are suspicions there may be many more.
A Maxar analyst told me the trenches were made very quickly and differed from previous ways Iranians have dug plots at the site. What’s more, there’s even an image showing a big pile of lime, which Iranian health officials had previously said was being used to bury those killed by coronavirus.
Which means these trenches were likely made in haste to deal with a growing body count. A count the regime — which includes many top officials also ill with the disease — is struggling to curb.
It’s getting really bad in Iran, and Qom especially
Last week, CNN reported that dozens of dead Iranians were laid in black body bags on the floor of a Qom morgue. It’s unclear how many of those people were were killed by the virus, if any. But it underscored how the city, a place considered holy in Shia Islam and a major center of Shia Islamic learning, is struggling to contend with a major crisis.
Two medical workers in Qom told CNN that worries over the coronavirus have led to a stop in traditional Islamic burials, which include washing the body with soap and water before laying it to rest. Instead, those bodies are being treated with calcium oxide — lime — so they don’t infect the soil with the virus.
Ali Ramezani, the director of the Behesht-e Masoumeh morgue in Qom, told state-run television at the time that there was now a “pile up” of bodies at the facility as they await testing.
It’s unclear if the regime will get a handle on the crisis any time soon. In the meantime, Qom is aware of what’s at stake.
Correction: A previous version of the article said the photos were first reported on by the Washington Post. The New York Times was first.