People hold umbrellas distributed by volunteers to maintain social distancing in a market in Chennai. Photo: Arun Sankar/AFP

India is considering further easing of lockdown restrictions despite adding the second-highest number of daily coronavirus cases in the world.

The government may relax the four-month-long bar on cinemas, theatres and gyms with restrictions on social distancing, reports suggest. Individual states have a right to delay the recommendations. The present lockdown curtailments come up for review on July 31.

The reports emerged as India’s daily cases reached 50,525, just behind the US where the figure was 56,130.

In terms of total cases, India is third worst with 1.43 million, behind Brazil’s 2.4 million and 4.4 million in the US. India reported its fifth successive day of more than 45,000 daily cases as the virus spread to states in the south and the hitherto unaffected north-east.

A key reason for the relaxation is the large amount of direct and indirect employment the affected sectors provide. The film industry also caters for the rapidly growing number of viewers on other platforms such as television, phones and computers screens.

The primarily Mumbai-based Hindi movie industry, popularly known as Bollywood, is the world’s most prolific and has lost more than $150 million since the lockdown was imposed on March 25. India has more than half a billion internet users, and more than 850 television channels in a nation that has limited avenues for public entertainment.

The lockdown, severe during the initial two months, and selective in the following two, has hit the economy hard. The central bank has forecast the country’s gross domestic product will contract in the full year. Independent economists say the GDP may contract by double digits.

Still, as the number of new cases increases the authorities have some solace that India’s mortality rate at 2.3% is below the global average of 4%. As many as 32,812 died after contracting the virus from 1.43 million cases, compared with 45,752 deaths from fewer than 300,000 cases in the UK, and 43,374 deaths from 385,000 cases in Mexico.

Experts attribute part of the credit to an increase in the number of tests, sometimes carried out door-to-door as in Delhi and parts of Mumbai, to identify and isolate virus carriers. India has increased tests to about half a million each day, and plans to increase it to a million.

Still, at 11.8 tests per 1,000 people India has a relatively low rate. The US, in contrast, conducts 153 tests per 1,000.

In Delhi, the number of active cases is down to 11,904 from almost 115,000.  In Mumbai, the number of days for cases to double has risen to more than 64, from single digits in April.

Mumbai’s Municipal Commissioner said on Sunday he would like to further ease lockdown conditions in the city once the surrounding suburbs and towns such as Pune begin to report lower numbers.

Still, as the initial hotspots such as Mumbai, Tamil Nadu and Delhi see a gradual decline in cases, other areas such as Bangalore and its state Karnataka, Telangana, Bihar and West Bengal are beginning to see a surge.

Karnataka and its capital Bangalore, which were doing well initially to contain the virus, witnessed a sharp rise this month. The number of active cases is 58,425 compared with 35,838 recoveries, the only state in India with such as sharply skewed ratio. Neighboring Kerala, hailed as a model of success, too has 9,664 active cases compared with 9,300 recoveries.

Of India’s 50,525 daily cases, about 20,000 come from south Indian states. To contain the virus spread, Tamil Nadu plans to give two free masks per family in the poorer sections.

Eastern states of West Bengal and Bihar witnessed a sharp surge in cases. West Bengal has introduced a bi-weekly lockdown. Bihar too has its versions of selective lockdown.

On the quirky side, India’s Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal became the butt of jokes on social media after he launched a brand of papad, a wafer-thin snack, claiming it had ingredients that could create antibodies to coronavirus.

Similarly, some members of parliament belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have been been recommending coronavirus treatments such as exposure to direct sunlight, chanting religious mantras, herbal concoctions or even the miracle cure of cow urine. Fortunately, they are individual beliefs and have nothing to do with the government.