Iran is home to one of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 outside of China, with its health ministry saying more than 10,000 people have been infected and 429 have died. The scope may be larger, or so suggests new satellite images. The Washington Post reports those images show excavation on a new section of cemetery in Qom—the spiritual center of Iran's ruling Shiite clerics and home to 1.2 million people—began Feb. 21, the same day Iran reported its third and fourth deaths from the virus. The country had reported its first two cases only two days earlier, per the New York Times. By the month's end, the excavation had grown to include two trenches that together measure 100 yards long—that's football-field length—as first reported by the Times.
A senior imagery analyst at Colorado's Maxar Technologies, which provided satellite images of the Behesht-e Masoumeh cemetery to the Post, suggests a white substance seen near the trenches could be lime, which Iran has acknowledged using to manage decay in the graves of coronavirus victims. The analyst notes the excavation process has been markedly different than what would usually be seen at the site, which is home to individual and family plots. No death toll has been provided for Qom specifically, but the Post says a review of the images and videos indicates the casualty count is higher than what Iran has been disclosing. (Read more Iran stories.)