On Feb. 21, two days after the first two cases of the cataclysmic COVID-19 were reported in Iran’s Qom city, I got a call from a friend in that city.

He was planning his maiden trip to India during the New Year holiday and asked for my advices to finalize his itinerary.

“How is the situation in Qom, I heard about some virus outbreak there,” I asked him. He appeared dismissive, saying it was a “common influenza” and there was no reason to press the panic button.

Qom, a popular religious tourism destination some 100 miles south of the

Read more: How COVID-19 turned into major health crisis in Iran