Iran says it has more than 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, but video on social media, as well as satellite imagery showing mass graves in the Islamic republic, suggest the crisis there may be far worse than authorities admit.
While the government in Tehran has said 429 people across Iran have died from the virus, information emerging over the past week indicates the death toll may be far higher.
Radio Farda — the Iranian branch of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — has reported that the death toll cited by Iranian officials may only reflect deaths confirmed by coroners, without taking into account the tally from hospitals across the country.
Last week, the news outlet cited videos circulating on social media that showed bulldozers digging mass graves in cemeteries in several Iranian cities.
The veracity of the videos appeared to be undergirded Thursday by The Washington Post, which cited satellite imagery showing expanding excavation at the Behesht-e Masoumeh cemetery complex in the Iranian city of Qom, about 80 miles south of Tehran.
The imagery shows the emergence during late-February of two large trenches totaling 100 yards at the cemetery, according to The Post report, which also cited a senior imagery analyst as noting what appears in the images to be a large white pile of lime — a material commonly used to manage decay and odor in mass graves.
The report noted that Iranian health officials have in recent weeks confirmed the use of lime when burying coronavirus victims.
The outbreak in Iran was the third worst in the world — behind China and Italy — as of Thursday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The data shows 80,932 total confirmed cases and 3,056 deaths in China, and 12,462 confirmed cases and 827 deaths in Italy. It shows Iran with 10,075 confirmed cases and 429 deaths.