Schools in Delhi will be closed for physical classes for a week from Monday due to the worsening air pollution in the national capital, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced on Saturday, ANI reported. Online classes will, however, continue.

From Sunday to Wednesday, no construction activity will be allowed in the city, Kejriwal said.

Employees of government offices will also work from home for a week starting Monday. “Private offices will be issued an advisory to go for WFH [work from home] option as much as possible,” the chief minister told reporters.

Kejriwal chaired a meeting to bring the air quality back to normal hours after a Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana asked the Centre to take emergency measures. The chief justice even suggested Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to impose a two-day lockdown.

Addressing reporters after the meeting, Kejriwal said his government was working on proposal for lockdown in Delhi and will submit it to the Supreme Court.

During the hearing in Supreme Court, Justice DY Chandrachud, who was part of the bench, expressed concern about the health of schoolchildren.

“Schools have been opened now,” said Chandrachud. “Little children are out on the roads to reach their schools. You are exposing little children to pollution, pandemic and dengue.”

Ramana said the situation was so bad that the city’s residents have to wear masks even at home.

Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, told the court that he understands that the situation was alarming. He also admitted that breathing the Delhi air is like smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

The Supreme Court will hear the case next on Monday.

Air pollution

The air quality in Delhi and surrounding areas like Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad dropped sharply in November after residents defied a ban on firecrackers.

Delhi’s pollution gets worse in October and November also because of farmers burning stubble in neighbouring states, unfavourable wind speed and emission of fumes by the local traffic in the city.

At 7 pm on Saturday, Delhi’s air quality index hit 441 – categorised as “severe” by the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research, or Safar. A thick haze of toxic smog hung over the national capital.

Levels of the most dangerous particles, called PM2.5, was 291 micrograms per cubic meter, which is considered hazardous to breathe. Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (or about a ten-thousandth of an inch) is particularly dangerous to human health. Such particles are small enough to travel deep into the respiratory system, potentially impairing lung function.