Coronavirus outbreak cover-up? Iran has built mass graves, satellite images emerge
The satellite images show that Iran might have been trying to cover-up the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. According to Iranian health officials, so far 429 people have died and more than 10,000 are infected.
Iran -- the epicentre of coronavirus in the Middle East -- has built mass graves in the city of Qom, new satellite images show, signalling that the pandemic outbreak in the country is more serious than the authorities are admitting.
According to Iranian health officials, the death toll in the country from Covid-19 has risen to 429, with over 10,000 confirmed cases.
The pictures, first published by the New York Times, show the excavation of a new section in a cemetery on the northern fringe of Iran’s holy city in late February, and two long trenches dug, of a total length of 100 yards, by the end of the month.
According to a Guardian report, the images confirm the worst fears about the extent of the epidemic and the government’s cover-up. On February 24, at the time the trenches were being dug, a legislator from Qom, accused the Health Ministry of lying about the scale of the outbreak, saying there had already been 50 deaths in the city, at a time when the Ministry was claiming only 12 people had died from the virus nationwide.
The outbreak has infected a host of senior officials, politicians, clerics and members of the elite Revolutionary Guards in Iran, the fourth worst-affected nation after China, South Korea and Italy.
The deputy Health Minister, Iraj Harirchi, had earlier held a press conference to deny the cover-up allegations, but he was seen sweating and coughing at the meet. The next day, Harirchi confirmed that he had tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.
Since then, members of Iranian Parliament, a former diplomat and a senior adviser to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have died.
Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency said on Thursday that Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Khamenei, had also been infected and was now under quarantine. The top ranks of Iran’s clerical leadership are particularly vulnerable because of their advanced age.
At least seven officials and politicians have died since February 19, when Iran announced first infections and two deaths from the virus.
Iran's clerical rulers have been struggling to contain the spread of the virus, despite the closure of schools and universities and the suspension of religious, cultural and sports events across the country.
Iranian officials have repeatedly urged people to avoid unnecessary trips and stay at home.
"Stay at home. Don't go shopping. You are making our job more difficult by ignoring the advice," Health Minister Saeed Namaki told Iranians on a live programme.
Amir Afkhami, who has written a history of Iran’s experience of cholera epidemics, “A Modern Contagion”, said the mass graves add weight to suspicions the real mortality figures are much higher and are still being covered by the leadership.
He added that the close trading partnership between Iran and China, and the government’s fear of disrupting that partnership had contributed to the early and rapid spread of the disease.
“Because of China’s status as the country’s principal commercial partner, the Iranian government took inadequate cautionary measures to restrict and monitor travellers from China,” Dr Afkhami said. “Then, later on, Tehran’s lack of transparency and unwillingness to take robust measures such as social distancing and quarantine, particularly at the epicentre of the outbreak, helped spread the virus.”