For Iran, 2020 opened with two loud bangs. On January 2, a US airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump killed General Qassem Soleimani, leader of an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, some say, the second most powerful man in Iran. Fearing a broader US attack, Iran's air defenses went on high alert, and someone with an itchy trigger finger accidently brought down a commercial airliner near Tehran's airport, killing all 176 people on board, most of them Iranian nationals.
Then COVID hit. In February, Iran became the world's first COVID hotspot outside China. The unwillingness of Iran's leaders to admit they had a problem and take aggressive action to contain the virus made matters worse. A second wave of the virus began in June, and a third wave may now be under way. State officials say that some 21,000 Iranians have died. The true number is probably much higher. In August, state television admitted that COVID kills one person every seven minutes in Iran.