You are standing before a huge barrel of apples. You can’t see the apples, but you can reach in and pick them out. Most are delicious, but a very small number of them are rotten—just about one in 12,000, your friend assures you. You reach in blindly and miraculously pick out a rotten apple. You reach in again and withdraw a whole heaping bushel of apples, maybe 50 in all. Most are good, but when you look closely you see them: one, two, three, four more rotten apples. One rotten apple is an amazing coincidence. Five means your barrel has lots of rotting apples in it and your friend was lying to you.
As of yesterday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, Iran has reported 6,566 COVID-19 cases, or about one in every 12,000 people in its population. The first case appeared on February 19. Right now Iran is third behind China (80,695) and South Korea (7,314), and just ahead of Italy (5,883). But the official Iranian number is almost certainly an undercount, probably due to the Iranian government’s attempt to hide a desperate situation for which it is partially responsible. When the final history of the coronavirus epidemic of 2020 is written, it may go something like this: The disease started in China, but it became finally and irrevocably uncontained in Iran. Knowing that the Iranian number is much higher than currently disclosed tells the rest of the world that the epidemic is even further along than official statistics indicate.