Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday allowed schools in the state to reopen for classes 9 to 12 from November 23, PTI reported. The decision was announced after his meeting with education department officials. Thackeray added that places of worship would also be opened soon, most likely after Diwali.

State Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad said that in-person classes will be held on alternate days, keeping in mind the risk of coronavirus infection. She added that science, mathematics and English will be taught in classrooms, while online classes will be held for other subjects.

A standard operating procedure has been formulated for the schools to function safely. Gaikwad said that all teachers will have to take RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests between November 17 and 22. Students will be thermally screened at entrances. In the classrooms, one student will be allowed per bench.

Unidentified officials told The Times of India that physical classes are not compulsory and students will be allowed the option of online lessons. They added that students will need the consent of parents to attend the classes. Schools will not allow sports, gatherings, and morning prayers.

Also read: Coronavirus: India’s tally crosses 85 lakh, toll rises to 1,26,121

Thackeray warned officials of a second wave of infections after Diwali. “Quarantine centers in schools cannot be shut,” he was quoted as saying by PTI. “The local administration can take decision regarding alternative places for classrooms. Sanitisation of schools, coronavirus tests for teachers and other precautions are a must.”

However, he said that temples in the state would reopen soon, adding that standard operating procedures to prevent overcrowding and minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission will be released after Diwali. “When will temples open? They will open soon,” the chief minister said, according to NDTV. “After Diwali we will create SOPs for this. Elderly people visit temples and they are at risk [of contracting Covid]. Therefore, overcrowding needs to be avoided... be it temples, masjids or any other place.”

Thackeray called for efforts to curb air pollution as it may increase the impact of Covid-19. “I appeal to people to not burn firecrackers rather lit earthen lamps,” he said, according to ANI. “Fifteen days post-Diwali will be crucial, we should be cautious so that the need for lockdown does not arise again.”

The chief minister also warned of action if people are found not wearing masks. He added that people have criticised him but he’s ready to face it. “I’m cautious for senior citizens,” he added. “If one Covid-positive person is without a mask, he can infect 400 others...these are doctor’s figures.”

Schools and colleges have been closed in the country since March 25, when a nationwide lockdown was imposed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. However, in its guidelines for reopening the country in September, the Centre allowed states to decide whether to reopen schools and colleges.

The Tamil Nadu government on Saturday allowed schools and colleges to reopen for students of Class 9 and above from November 16 with proper safety guidelines. Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had said last month that schools in the Capital will remain shut until further orders.

India has reported 85,07,754 coronavirus cases and 1,26,121 deaths so far, according to health ministry’s data. Maharashtra, India’s worst-affected state, has recorded 17,14,273 cases and over 45,000 deaths in all.