Iranian mass graves of coronavirus victims spotted from space

Iran is rapidly expanding a major cemetery in Qom, the area worst hit by the country’s novel coronavirus outbreak, satellite images revealed.

The country has reported at least 12,729 confirmed coronavirus cases and 611 deaths.

The satellite images from March 1 and March 8, put out by Maxar Technologies, appear to show an increase in activity inside the Behesht-e Masoumeh cemetery in Qom. The images show what looks like two fresh trenches of graves on March 1, with more excavation after that.

An aerial photo of a cemetery on the outskirts of Qom, the holy city at the centre of Iran’s coronavirus outbreak, suggests it has been expanded in recent weeks
This closer-up view shows two 300ft trenches appearing at the site in what experts say is a departure from normal practices at the burial ground
October 2019 This view from last year, before the coronavirus outbreak began, shows much of the graveyard lying unused
March 2020 By the start of March this year, one previously half-filled quadrant had been completely filled up while work had begun on another unused section

According to Islamic tradition, bodies are supposed to be buried quickly after death. But Behesht-e Masoumeh morgue director Ali Ramezani told Iranian state TV earlier this month that burials were being delayed as testing for the virus takes time.

Also the outbreak seems to preventing staff from observing traditional Islamic guidelines for burial.

Videos on social media showed showed dozens of bodies sheathed in black bags on the floor of an Iranian morgue, while workers in protective suits and masks busily walk among them.

The Persian New Year, or Nowruz, falls next Friday, March 20. Many Iranian families visit cemeteries before the end of the Persian year as part of the annual tradition. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called off his annual speech for Nowruz, state news agency IRNA reported Monday. Khamenei will not travel to the city of Mashhad, the site of the Imam Reza shrine, where the speech is usually delivered.

“Due to the spread of coronavirus and strict recommendations given by health officials and specialists to avoid any form of gathering and refrain from traveling and getting out of cities to prevent spread of the disease, the Leader’s speech ceremony … will not be held this year,” the statement cited by IRNA said.

Iran took drastic measures last week to stop the spread of the virus. The government banned Friday prayers in the centers of all provinces across the country. Schools and universities have been shut. Concerts and sports events have been canceled.

All of Iran’s 31 provinces have been hit by the virus, with a number of high-profile officials becoming sick.

Iran’s former foreign minister and current adviser to Khamenei, Ali Akbar Velayati, tested positive for the virus and was quarantined at his home in Tehran, Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA reported Tuesday.

Another Khamenei adviser, Mohammad Mirmohammadi, 71, died last week, and one of the country’s top clerics, Hadi Khosroshahi, succumbed to the sickness last month.

Earlier, Iranian officials confirmed that 23 members of the country’s 290-member parliament had tested positive. Two members are known to have died. Several vice presidents, of whom Iran has many, also tested positive.

Meanwhile, Iran on Friday rejected an apparent offer from US President Donald Trump to help Iran fight the virus. Trump said: “We have the greatest doctors in the world. We offer Iran assistance.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi dismissed the offer as “hypocritical” and “repulsive,” and accused the US of “economic and medical terrorism,” according to state-run Press TV.

“Instead of hypocritical displays of compassion and repulsive bragging, you should end your economic and medical terrorism so that medicine and medical supplies can reach medical staff and the Iranian people,” Mousavi said.

“We do not need American doctors,” Mousavi said, adding that Iran has “the best, bravest and most component medical staff in the world.”