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An Indian school girl take selfie after receiving vaccination for COVID-19 in Mumbai, on January 7, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Mumbai: India’s wealthiest state will reopen schools next week, its education minister said on Thursday, as new cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 fell sharply, even though it had the highest tally of infections nationwide.

Over the last 24 hours, India hit a fresh eight-month high with 317,532 new infections, while deaths rose by 491, close to this month’s peak, although the figure included 85 from a previous wave in the southern state of Kerala.

In Mumbai, the financial capital, daily new infections fell on Wednesday to 6,032, down from an all-time high of 20,971 on Jan. 7, municipal figures showed.

The city is also the capital of the western state of Maharashtra, which reported India’s highest total of new infections at 43,697.

“We were getting demands that schools should start,” state education minister Varsha Gaikwad told reporters. “We have decided to reopen schools from Grade 1 to Grade 12 from Monday.” The spike in infections had prompted the closures early in January, after most grades resumed temporarily last month.

In the national capital of New Delhi, where Omicron infections have also fallen sharply since the surge this month, city authorities said they were considering lifting curbs.

Delhi has shut schools, private offices, restaurants and has imposed weekend curfew.

Authorities say India’s rates of hospital admissions and deaths in its third wave of disease, caused this time by the milder Omicron variant, are lower than last year’s figures, when the Delta variant killed hundreds of thousands.

India’s tally of infections rose to 38.22 million, the second highest after the United States, while the death toll reached 487,693.

On Wednesday, the Indian drug regulator’s subject expert committee recommended full approval for Covishield and Covaxin, the two COVID-19 vaccines that have dominated the country’s inoculation drive.

Covishield, developed by the University of Oxford and Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc, is produced in India by the Serum Institute of India. Covaxin, India’s first home-grown coronavirus shot, was developed by privately owned Bharat Biotech.

The committee advised that the Drugs Controller General of India upgrade the status of the two shots from restricted use in emergencies for adults, the regulator said on Twitter.

Covaxin and Covishield received emergency use authorisation in India in January 2021, with more than a combined 1.5 billion doses having been administered so far, according to government data.

The Serum Institute has nearly quadrupled its monthly capacity of AstraZeneca’s shots to as many as 240 million doses and is prepared to export “large volumes” from January, its CEO told Reuters in October.