Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the latest numbers reported from Iran as of Tuesday are 8,042 confirmed cases, 291 deaths and 2,731 people who have recovered.

Three big questions loom as to the numbers from the Islamic Republic: First, are they lying about the death toll? Second, is the situation much worse than reported? And third, why would Iran want to remain secretive during a time when absolute honesty is required to contain the coronavirus?

Iran’s numbers from the Johns Hopkins site indicate an element of truthfulness. The number of cases worldwide is 119,132 and 4,284 deaths, or a 3.6% death rate. Iran’s numbers (291 deaths/8,042 total cases) yield the same percentage. Italy and South Korea appear to be the outliers at 6.2% (631 deaths / 10,149 total cases) and 0.7% (54 deaths / 7,755 total cases) respectively.

Iran’s critics are maintaining that the country’s top leaders are painting a much rosier picture instead of revealing the true situation of vastly higher numbers in both categories.

One unnamed local person, described by Fox News as a “30-something professional”, said, "The situation is very difficult; the authorities do not provide the exact figures of the dead. They have even arrested a staff member who shot film inside a hospital, where you could see it was filled with dead people inside a cellar. And the situation is much worse now. Hospitals (everywhere) are at capacity. No one is reporting the real death toll.". The person was in the Mazandaran Province, located along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea about 120 miles northeast of Tehran.

Matthew Schmidt, national security and political science expert at the University of New Haven, added, "Nobody believes the numbers coming out of Tehran. It may well be that Iran is now the epicenter of the outbreak. The government has and continues to misreport the number of cases and deaths. But this is due as much to incompetence as a cover-up."

The Iranian Health Ministry added some doubt to the 8,042 total case count when he said 16,000 people suspected of the virus are being treated in hospitals. On both Sunday and Monday, he said that more than 40 people had died of coronavirus each day with the Tehran province deemed the most heavily infected. The health minister added that it was unclear how many more may be quarantined at home.

The absolute answers to the first two questions are still unknown but Doctor Norman Fried, a medical expert and professor at Columbia University, provided an answer to the third question during an interview with Fox News.

He said, "The reason is simple: if there were a rapid response to properly quarantine patients in Iran, there would be a lower turnout for the elections that are presently occurring, and this would mar the appearance of electoral legitimacy that Iran is trying to maintain.”

Doctor Dena Grayson, a Florida-based doctor who has long studied infectious diseases, said Iran along with other countries failed to learn from China’s experience. She said, “Not disclosing the true severity of this pandemic and not acting decisively and quickly only leads to more infections and deaths.”