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Monday, October 18, 2021

Relaxation of Covid curbs: Schools, temples in Maharashtra to reopen in first week of October

The reopening will apply to government and civic schools, private schools and across boards. Residential schools, will, however remain shut. Pre-primary kindergartens and pre-schools will not reopen either.

Written by Vishwas Waghmode | Mumbai |
Updated: September 25, 2021 4:53:26 pm
Devotees during a procession on the last day of Ganesh Chaturthi, in Mumbai. (Photo: PTI)

In a further relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, the Maharashtra government on Friday announced that schools and places of worship in the state will reopen in the first week of October.

From October 4, 19 months after they shut down, schools will reopen their premises for in-person classes for students of classes 5 to 12 in rural areas, and from classes 8 to 12 in urban areas.

The reopening will apply to government and civic schools, private schools and across boards. Residential schools, will, however remain shut. Pre-primary kindergartens and pre-schools will not reopen either.

All places of worship will be allowed to reopen from October 7, the first day of Navratri.

While announcing these relaxations, the state government also appeared to be bracing for an impending third wave. It issued directions to Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) manufacturers and refillers to ensure their storage is maintained at 95 per cent of full capacity until September 30 and that they operate their plants at full capacity.

Schools in the state have been shut from March 2020, since the pandemic started, and classes are being held online. Maharashtra has 19,997 secondary and higher secondary schools in which over 45 lakh students study in classes 8 to 12.

School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad said that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has given his approval for reopening of schools. Gaikwad said that all rural schools will resume in-person classes for standards 5th to 12th in rural areas and 8th to 12th in urban areas, but with all measures to ensure the safety of students.

The school education department issued additional Standard Operating Procedure for reopening of schools, which include setting up school health clinics, care to be taken by students while coming to school, no sports activities, and how to find sick students.

“Though the schools will reopen, there is no compulsion for students to attend physical classes, and parents’ consent is required for students to attend physical classes. Students can be called on alternate days and physical distancing should be maintained,” Gaikwad told mediapersons.

The government earlier made attempts to reopen schools but had to drop the plan after a pushback from the state COVID task force.

Gaikwad said the government issued SOPs in July and August for opening schools. “But there was then the fear of the third wave. There was a discussion in the cabinet about it. The paediatric task force and experts from the educational field made some suggestions which have been incorporated now,” she added.

Last month, a day after the detailed SOP for school reopening was issued, the state cabinet discussed the issue, which was put on hold following opposition from the Covid task force.

In the first week of September, the paediatric task force suggested SOPs to be followed at the time of reopening of schools to ensure the safety of children and other things.

A statement from the CM’s office also announced that all places of worship will be opened from October 7.

“After tackling the second wave we have drafted a plan to contain the third wave. We are planning to relax restrictions in a gradual manner. Although the number of corona patients is currently declining, we need to be more careful. Even if religious places are being opened for devotees, all rules pertaining to public health need to be followed,” Thackeray said in a statement.

Over the past few months, the government has received representations from various quarters for places of worship to be opened. It has also come under a lot of pressure from the BJP, which held protests seeking the reopening of temples. The MVA government had shut down all religious places when the second wave hit the state.

The government has also issued directions to ensure sufficient medical oxygen during the peak period of the possible third wave.

The government issued the order considering that some LMO manufacturers and refillers reported depleted stocks. “It was seen during the requirement of large amount of supplies during the peak phase of the second wave, certain manufacturers reported considerably depleted stocks of LMO,” said Sitaram Kunte, Chief Secretary. The notification comes into effect today and will remain in force till further orders.

During the second wave in April-June 2021, with a peak of 7 lakh active cases, 1850 metric tonne LMO was required. The state’s oxygen production capacity is 1270 MT, including major and small producers.

The directions issued include that all LMOs and refillers in the state shall ensure that their storage is maintained at 95 per cent of full capacity by September 30, 2021, and will continue maintaining this level till further orders. “To achieve this, LMO manufacturers shall ensure that their plants run at full LMO production capacity,” said the order.

It further said that district collectors shall ensure that all LMO storages in the district (both public and private hospitals) shall be maintained at the maximum possible technically feasible level. This activity may be taken up immediately. The Public Health Department in consultation with the Medical Education and Drugs Department should adjust non-medical oxygen use as medical oxygen needs start rising, it added.

“For the implementation of the above directions, the competent authority at the state level shall be commissioner, Foods and Drugs Administration, and at the district and municipal corporation level will be district collectors and municipal commissioners to take appropriate actions for any violation of these directions,” said the order.

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