• Iran acknowledges 10,075 confirmed cases of and 429 deaths from coronavirus
  • Images show mass graves being dug outside Qom
  • Iran's foreign minister has asked for relief from U.S. sanctions to fight the virus

Iran, which has reported more than 10,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, is digging a new graveyard outside Qom, about 80 miles south of Tehran, indicating the worst outbreak outside China may be more severe than the government admits, satellite photos indicated Thursday.

Iran’s first cases of coronavirus were reported in Qom, the spiritual center of ruling Shiite clerics and home to 1.2 million people. The images from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite were taken Feb. 27 of the Behesht-e Masoumeh complex, which includes not only the city’s largest cemetery but also parks, a morgue and a mosque.

Imagery provided to the Washington Post by Maxar Technologies of Colorado showed large sections of the cemetery appeared unused in October, but just weeks after the first confirmed cases of the virus surfaced, two 100-yard trenches were dug to accommodate victims of COVID-19, the dangerous lung disease caused by the virus. One analyst also pointed to a large mound of lime, which can be used to help manage decay.

A video posted on YouTube March 6 shows a mass grave.

Iran’s Health Ministry has acknowledged 429 deaths from the virus amid more than 10,075 cases, including at least two dozen government officials, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khameini among them.

The government has acknowledged 846 cases of the virus in Qom.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday asked the United Nations to lift U.S. sanctions to enable Tehran to fight the virus. In a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Zarif said the sanctions are preventing Iran from obtaining necessary medicine and medical equipment. Iranian labs are now processing 6,000 tests a day.

Tehran announced Thursday it had asked the International Monetary Fund for $5 billion in emergency assistance because of the virus.

President Hassan Rouhani urged Iranians to following guidelines issued to stem the spread of the virus, especially with the approach of the New Year holidays.