Children deserve to be taught’: Teachers in 22 cities are planning protests over laws restricting racism lessons in schools

Growing up in Arkansas, Jared Middleton remembers learning only the basic facts of events with heavy racial dynamics, such as the Civil War and the civil rights movement.

It wasn’t until George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 that Middleton, a high school special education teacher in Springdale, Arkansas, began to scrutinize history lessons that didn’t include multiple perspectives or discussions of lasting implications. He wants his own son to get “a more complete history” of how the nation was founded, he said.

Recognizing that schools have long ignored the history of people of color, many teachers have endeavored to incorporate lessons on topics ranging from the Tulsa race massacre to the Chinese Exclusion Act. But conservatives across the country are alarmed by how, exactly, teachers are adding nuance to discussions of race and racism in U.S. history classes. In Arkansas and more than a dozen other states, lawmakers have introduced or passed new laws to curtail or re-direct the tone of those lessons.

Now teachers are pushing back. On Saturday, groups in more than 22 cities are organizing rallies and other events to protest legislative efforts to restrict the scope of such conversations.

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, said the organization is weighing legal action against laws restricting how racism and history are taught.

“And we’ll defend any teachers brought up on charges,” she said.

Culture wars: Fighting over history lessons
The events Saturday may include speeches or resemble a pop-up American history fair, Pringle said.

The National Education Association is supporting the effort. The lead organizer is the Zinn Education Project, an initiative of two liberal nonprofits, the Washington, D.C.-based Teaching for Change and Milwaukee-based Rethinking Schools. Black Lives Matter at School, a national coalition that advocates for racial justice in education, is also involved.

“Our children deserve to be taught authentic, connective histories,” said Tamara Anderson, a member of Black Lives Matter at School and an organizer of Saturday’s events in Philadelphia. “Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian and other people of color make up the fabric of what is actually America.”

Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would penalize schools that teach about the country’s racist and sexist past.

Similar battles are unfolding in other states.

Florida’s state Board of Education on Thursday put tougher guidelines on how public schools teach U.S. history. Critics chanted, “Allow teachers to teach the truth,” during the meeting, which forced a recess.

Teaching history: Florida standards call for more patriotism in lessons
In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, recently signed a law that will ban schools from making students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” because of their race or sex, among other provisions.

Michigan GOP leaders introduced legislation that would limit discussions of the lasting effect of race and racism in U.S. history. The bill would cut funding to schools where the curriculum includes material from The 1619 Project, a series of stories published in 2019 by The New York Times that examines the role of slavery in the country’s founding.

Bill sponsors and other conservatives claim more inclusive history education drifts from straight facts and into a radical model of race theory that unfairly makes white children feel bad about the legacy of their ancestors.

Israel-Hamas ceasefire could come as soon as Friday: report

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas could come as soon as Friday, people involved in the discussions told The Wall Street Journal.

U.S. and foreign officials told the newspaper that Egyptian officials have made progress in their negotiations with Hamas’ leadership.

The Biden administration believes a cease-fire could come this week, a U.S. official told the newspaper, provided that unforeseen clashes don’t disrupt discussions.

The U.S., Egypt, Qatar and several other European nations have been working to get Israeli and Hamas leaders in Gaza to end violence that has escalated in the last week, according to the Journal.

A U.S. official told the Journal that the only issue is timing. There are also concerns that Islamic Jihad, a militant group fighting alongside Hamas, could provoke the situation further after the sides agree in principle to a cease-fire.

The Hill has reached out to The White House for comment.

The move comes amid pressure on Israel and Hamas to end fighting amid dire circumstances. The latest round of conflict had been escalating for nearly one month between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem before erupting into full on war on May 10 between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Over 227 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday, during which he said he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.” The call was the first time Biden indicated a timeline on when he wants to see a reduction in the violence.

After the call, Netanyahu said he was determined “to continue this operation until its objective is achieved: to restore the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.”

Covid-19 travel ban unintentionally leaves Indian Americans stranded in India

When Georgia resident Gaurav Chauhan heard his father had been hospitalized with Covid-19 in India, he immediately decided to travel to help care for him. But Chauhan didn’t realize that doing so would put him in the middle of a bureaucratic loophole many India-born visa holders are trying to navigate as they struggle to get authorization to return to their homes and careers in the U.S.

While Chauhan’s father was discharged from the hospital after seven days in the intensive care unit, “he is still too weak to do basic work and needs support,” Chauhan told NBC Asian America in an email.

As he works to help his father navigate his recovery, Chauhan is also trying to figure out how to return to his own wife and young children in Atlanta. Like all H-1B visa holders, Chauhan needs to get his visa stamped in person by an official at a U.S. Consulate to return, but because of coronavirus-related closures, all of the consulates in India are closed and no appointments are available.

Although the White House announced in April that it would restrict most travel from India to the United States beginning May 4, U.S. citizens, permanent residents and visa holders who are the spouses, siblings or parents of U.S. citizens were exempt. Because of this, Chauhan — whose children were both born in the United States — is not subject to the travel ban.

But the current closures at the U.S. Embassy in India and consulates across India mean he and many other Indian nationals based in the United States are effectively barred from re-entering the country. Because there is currently no timeline for when the consulates will reopen, many visa holders fear their careers and immigration status will be endangered.

For Chauhan and his wife, the hardest part about his uncertain visa status has been explaining the situation to their children, who are 3 and 7.

“My three year old doesn’t understand and keeps looking outside towards my car and asks where I am and why I am not coming,” he said. “This breaks my heart.”

He recently tweeted a video of the younger child and tagged several lawmakers and news organizations in an attempt to draw attention to the impact the coronavirus-related visa backlog is having on American families.

Chauhan and his family are not the only visa holders affected by the current embassy closures. Claire Pratt, an immigration attorney at Jewell Stewart & Pratt in San Francisco, is working with several clients who are navigating the India travel ban and the impact of the suspension of some consular operations.

“I have clients who have had to postpone weddings because they are not sure they’ll be able to come back,” Pratt said, adding that other clients also fear they will not be able to get their new spouses entry visas into the United States while consulate operations are on hold. “I’ve also had clients who need to go back to see sick family members and they have not been able to go because they know they cannot come back. There are definitely real life consequences to this.”

Neha Mahajan and her husband, Ashu, who first came to the U.S. in 2008 on H-1B visas, are also weighing their options about Ashu Mahajan’s lack of visa certification. He flew to New Delhi in mid-April when he received word that his father was gravely ill with Covid-19.

“The doctors literally called us and said, ‘If you want to see him, now’s the time to come by,’” Neha Mahajan, who is also a co-founder of the group Skilled Immigrants in America, said. “Imagine our plight. If a doctor calls you, what do you do? You would drop everything you have and you would just rush to go.”

Ashu Mahajan’s father died of Covid-19 shortly after his arrival on April 17. Since then, like Chauhan and others, he has not been able to get a consular appointment to get his visa stamped. Because Neha Mahajan stayed behind at their home in New Jersey with their children, who are 9 and 15, she has been contacting elected officials and others to assess what their options are.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told NBC Asian America in a statement that all routine visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai will continue to be suspended.

“The U.S. Missions in India are continuing their important operations to support the U.S.-India relationship and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, some services are limited,” the statement read. “Mission India posts will make every attempt to continue to honor approved emergency visa appointments.”

Neha Mahajan, left, with her husband Ashu and their children. (Courtesy Neha Mahajan)
Neha Mahajan noted that while she personally doesn’t disagree with a travel ban from India for tourists, there should be a way for visa holders with jobs and roots in the U.S. to return to the country, especially those who are exempt from the travel restrictions because they are the parents of citizens.

“Now is not the time for traveling for leisure,” Neha Mahajan said. “But people like us have worked and lived in the United States of America for more than a decade. We deserve to go back to be able to care for the dying and then be able come right back in.”

European Union to open for vaccinated travelers; Dr. Anthony Fauci says public ‘misinterpreting’ CDC mask guidance: Latest COVID-19 updates

The European Union on Wednesday announced plans to reopen its borders to fully vaccinated visitors, as well as people coming from a list of countries considered safe, with the United States expected to make the cut.

It’s unclear when these new rules will go into effect, but an updated list of countries that meet the new criteria is expected soon. Up until now, the list included only seven nations. The EU’s 27 ambassadors agreed to ease restrictions on nonessential travel and on those who are vaccinated for COVID-19 after imposing strict measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus last year“The council should also soon expand the list of non-EU countries with a good epidemiological situation from where travel is permitted,” said EU Commission spokesman Christian Wigand. The EU’s European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will give advice on the list.

EU nations have been struggling to support their vital tourism industry during the pandemic and hope to recover some income over the peak summer season.

The U.S. ranks among the world leaders in vaccinations, with 60% of Americans adults having had at least one dose, and new infections and hospitalizations are steadily falling. The seven-day average of new cases has dropped to numbers not seen since March 2020, essentially the start of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. weighs changes to COVID-19 travel restrictions

The Biden administration has been weighing changes to sweeping travel restrictions that bar much of the world’s population from coming to the United States, but has reached no decisions, government and industry officials told Reuters.

European Union countries agreed on Wednesday to ease COVID-19 travel restrictions on non-EU visitors ahead of the summer tourist season, a move that could open the bloc’s door to all Britons and to vaccinated Americans.

Biden administration agencies have been holding meetings for more than a month and reaching out to industry officials about when and how they could begin to unwind the travel restrictions first imposed in early 2020 in response to COVID-19 that bar much of the world’s population from entering the United States.

Asked whether the United States would allow vaccinated Europeans to enter, a White House spokesman said there were no changes in travel restrictions planned at the moment.

The U.S. Travel Association said it hoped the “European Union’s risk-based, science-driven plan to reopen international travel will hopefully spur the U.S. to heed the many calls for a plan and timetable to safely reopen our borders.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told a news conference on Wednesday that any decision to lift restrictions “ultimately is a public health decision and there is an interagency process and obviously the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)” is taking a leading role.

Buttigieg added: “There are two ways of looking at this – one is to look at countries, the other is to look at travelers,” in terms of trying to maximize safety and allow for more travel.

A coalition of U.S. and European travel, airline, union, business and airport groups has called for a full reopening of the U.S.-UK air travel market “as soon as safely possible” – and hopes both government will lift restrictions by early June.

Nearly all of Europe still bans most U.S. travelers from visiting, while Britain allows American visitors but requires a 10-day quarantine on arrival and two COVID-19 tests.

Since early 2020, the United States has barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in the UK and much of Europe, as well as China, Iran and Brazil. This year, Washington added South Africa and India to the list.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Ambassadors from the 27 EU countries approved a European Commission proposal from May 3 to loosen the criteria to determine “safe” countries and to let in fully vaccinated tourists from elsewhere, EU sources said.

Masked and restricted by COVID-19, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr

People across Asia celebrated Eid al-Fitr with masks and prayers, but in many places COVID-19 restrictions were in place to limit the joyous mass gatherings and family reunions that usually mark the Muslim holiday.

Millions of people across the continent would typically travel to their hometowns to celebrate with their families and crowd markets, shopping malls and mosques – scenes the authorities in hard-hit countries are trying to avoid.

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, the faithful wore masks as they arrived at the Dian Al-Mahri mosque in Depok, a city to the south of Indonesian capital Jakarta, and they sanitised their hands before going in.At the entrance, a poster outlining six steps recommended by the World Health Organisation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 served as a stern reminder of the danger in a country that has the highest number of cases and deaths in Southeast Asia.

“(We are) very lucky that we can pray together this year, when we couldn’t do it last year,” said Tri Haryati Ningsih, 53.

“Especially when the pandemic is still going on, we are still allowed to worship together this year, with health protocols in place. Hopefully, the coronavirus will pass quickly and we can always worship together,” she said.

From Indonesia to Pakistan, governments have imposed restrictions to contain the spread of the virus during Eid, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Indonesia has banned domestic travel until May 17, while Malaysia imposed a new national lockdown on Monday ahead of the festival.

Pakistan last month announced an extended holiday around Eid and extra safety restrictions aimed at reducing mass travel during the celebrations.

The government urged people to stay at home after the country suffered a record number of COVID-related deaths during Ramadan, and ordered the closure of malls, non-essential shops and the public transport system during the holiday.

MOSQUES SHUT

Eid starts at different times in different places as the timing depends on when the local religious authorities sight the moon.

In India, celebrations are likely to be muted with nearly two thirds of the country under some sort or movement restrictions due to the acute COVID-19 crisis there.

In New Delhi and other cities, Eid prayer services at major mosques will be limited to between five and 10 clerics and staff and will not be open to the general public.

Some smaller mosques will shut altogether, with clerics asking the faithful to pray from home.

Muslims celebrate Eid in Manchester 

Soaring numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in India have overwhelmed the health system, leaving many patients without oxygen, hospital beds and adequate treatment.

At the mosque in Depok, Indonesia, worshippers were praying for the coronavirus to end soon.

“My biggest hope is that the COVID-19 pandemic will quickly pass and things return to … what it was before, so that we can meet with our family and relatives again, and we don’t feel lonely anymore,” said Cici Permata, 27.

Rockets pound Israel after Gaza militants killed

Hamas militants have launched dozens of rockets on Israel after Israeli air strikes killed senior commanders and felled a multi-storey building in Gaza.

Reports say several locations in southern Israel were hit, leaving one young child seriously wounded.

The escalation of the fighting, which began on Monday, has prompted the UN to warn of a “full-scale war”.

At least 65 people in Gaza, including 14 children, and six people in Israel have been killed since then.

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system – seen here over Ashkelon – aims to protect towns and cities from rockets

The fighting erupted after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tension in East Jerusalem which culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by Muslims and Jews.

  • Violence explodes in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod
  • Children terrified as locals scramble for cover
  • Jeremy Bowen: Old grievances fuel new fighting
  • Israel-Gaza violence dominates Arab media

Violent unrest in towns in Israel with mixed Jewish and Arab populations has led to hundreds of arrests. Lod near Tel Aviv is under a state of emergency.

Palestinian militants have been firing rockets into Israel since Monday night, and Israel has responded by hitting targets in the territory.

Hundreds of air strikes and rocket attacks have been carried out.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says that more than 360 people have been injured there since the conflict began, as well as the 65 who have died.

Mr Netanyahu said the government would use all its strength to protect Israel from enemies on the outside and rioters on the inside.

But the Palestinian Authority condemned Israel’s “military aggression” in a tweet, saying it was “traumatizing an already beleaguered population of 2 million people”.

What happened on Wednesday?

Militants in Gaza said they had fired 130 rockets into Israel in response to an Israeli aid raid which destroyed the al-Sharouk tower in Gaza City.

The tower, which is the third tall building to be destroyed by air strikes this week, housed al-Aqsa TV, the station run by Hamas.

Israel said it had killed senior Hamas officials in Gaza, and was also targeting missile launching sites. Hamas confirmed a senior commander and “other leaders” had died.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said on Wednesday that their strikes on Gaza were the largest since the conflict in 2014.

Residents had been warned to evacuate the buildings before fighter jets attacked; however health officials said there were still civilian deaths.

Five members of one family were killed in an air strike on Tuesday, including two young brothers, according to AFP news agency.

“We were laughing and having fun when suddenly they began to bomb us. Everything around us caught fire,” their 14-year-old cousin, Ibrahim, said, breaking down in tears as he described their death.

Meanwhile millions of Israelis were in bomb shelters on Wednesday evening, according to the IDF, after sirens warning of rockets sounded across the country.

A six-year-old boy was badly injured in an attack on an apartment building in the town of Sderot.

Anna Ahronheim, the defence and security correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, described spending Tuesday night in a shelter with her five-month-old baby.

“To hear hundreds of interceptions and even to hear rockets fall near us was horrifying,” she told the BBC.

On Wednesday morning an Israeli soldier was killed by an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza into Israel, authorities said, while two Israeli Arabs died in Lod when a rocket hit their car.

Israeli police reported what they called violent riots in dozens of areas of the country overnight, with 270 people arrested.

Synagogues and businesses in Lod were set on fire.

The town was placed under curfew between 20:00 local time on Wednesday and 04:00 on Thursday.

How has the world responded?

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said he was “gravely concerned” by the ongoing violence. While the UN Security Council has has met to discuss the issue it has not issued a statement.

In a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Hamas rocket attacks but said Israel had an obligation to avoid civilian casualties.

He said he had sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr to the region to meet both sides.

Russia has called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia).

A Russian foreign ministry statement quoted a Hamas spokesman as saying the movement was ready for a ceasefire if Israel stopped “violent acts” in East Jerusalem and “illegal measures in respect of its native Arab residents”.

What has caused the violence?

The fighting between Israel and Hamas was triggered by days of escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at a holy hilltop compound in East Jerusalem.

The site is revered by both Muslims, who call it the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), and Jews, for whom it is known as the Temple Mount. Hamas demanded Israel remove police from there and the nearby predominantly Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families face eviction by Jewish settlers. Hamas launched rockets when its ultimatum went unheeded.

Palestinian anger had already been stoked by weeks of rising tension in East Jerusalem, inflamed by a series of confrontations with police since the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in mid-April.

  • What makes Jerusalem so holy?
  • The Israel-Palestinian conflict explainedIt was further fuelled by the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers and Israel’s annual celebration of its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, known as Jerusalem Day.

    The fate of the city, with its deep religious and national significance to both sides, lies at the heart of the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel in effect annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 and considers the entire city its capital, though this is not recognised by the vast majority of other countries.

    Palestinians claim the eastern half of Jerusalem as the capital of a hoped-for state of their own.

    Are you in Israel or Gaza and affected by these events? Please share your story by emailing fidelisezebube@gmail.com.

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10-Year-Old Refugee, Once Homeless, Becomes National Chess Master: ‘Very Happy’

A 10-year-old boy won the title of National Chess Master on May 1.

Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi‘s win makes him the the 28th youngest person in the country to achieve that high ranking, per the U.S. Chess Federation.

Tani’s remarkable abilities as a chess player helped him and his family, refugees from Nigeria, move out of a New York City homeless shelter, according to the New York Times.

Of his latest accomplishment, the 10-year-old told NPR, “I was very happy that I won and that I got the title. I really love that I finally got it.”

Tani revealed he practices chess “every day” after school for 10 or 11 hours.

His next goal is becoming the world’s youngest grandmaster, he shared with NPR.

The Nigerian refugee will turn 11 this summer, meaning he has just under two years to take the title from Sergey Karjakin, the New York Times reported.

Tani became recognized in 2019 after he won the New York state chess championship for his age group, earning himself a profile in the New York Times. The accomplishment came just a year after he learned how to play chess at school while living in a homeless shelter.

His family couldn’t afford to pay his school’s chess program membership at one point, but his chess teacher waived the fees, USA Today reported at the time.

Other individuals also stepped in to support Tani’s talents.

His father set up a GoFundMe page that raised $254,448 and enabled their family to get housing and other necessities.

“Tani’s life was changed in 24 hours. Generous donors and supporters came together outside of GoFundMe and provided us with the housing, legal, and educational resources we needed,” an update to the page in April 2019 said.

Afghanistan girls’ school bomb attack death toll rises to 68

The death toll from a bomb attack outside a school in the Afghan capital Kabul has risen to 68, officials said on Sunday, with doctors struggling to care for 165 injured victims and families searching desperately for missing children.

Explosions on Saturday evening shook the neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, home to a large community of Shiites from the Hazara ethnic minority which has been targeted in the past by Islamic State, a Sunni militant group.

A car bomb was detonated in front of the Sayed Al-Shuhada school and two more bombs exploded when students rushed out in panic.

Officials said most of those killed were schoolgirls. Some families were still searching hospitals for their children.

“The first blast was powerful and happened so close to the children that some of them could not be found,” said an Afghan official, requesting anonymity.

An eyewitness told Reuters all but seven or eight of the victims were schoolgirls going home after finishing their studies. On Sunday, civilians and policemen collected books and school bags strewn across a blood-stained road now busy with shoppers ahead of celebrations for Eid al-Fitr next week.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday blamed Taliban insurgents, but a spokesman for the group denied involvement and condemned any attacks on civilians.

Pope Francis called the attack an “inhuman act” in remarks to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City on Sunday.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the attack and expressed his deepest sympathies to the victims’ families and to the Afghan government and people.

Families of the victims blamed the government and Western powers for failing to put an end to violence and the ongoing war.

Bodies were still being collected from morgues as the first burials were conducted in the west of the city. Some families were still searching for missing relatives on Sunday, gathering outside hospitals to read names posted on the walls, and checking morgues.

“The entire night we carried bodies of young girls and boys to a graveyard and prayed for everyone wounded in the attack,” said Mohammed Reza Ali, who has been helping families of the victims at a private hospital.

“Why not just kill all of us to put an end to this war?” he said.

Security was intensified across Kabul after the attack, but authorities said they would not be able to provide protection to all schools, mosques and other public places.

Conflict is raging in Afghanistan, with security forces in daily combat with the Taliban, who have waged war to overthrow the foreign-backed government since they were ousted from power in Kabul in 2001.

Although the United States did not meet a May 1 withdrawal deadline agreed in talks with the Taliban last year, its military pull-out has begun, with President Joe Biden announcing that all troops will be gone by September 11.

But the foreign troop withdrawal has led to a surge in fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents.

Critics of the decision say the Islamist militants will make a grab for power and civilians live in fear of being subjected once more to brutal and oppressive Taliban rule.

On Twitter, China’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Wang Yu, said the abrupt US announcement of a complete withdrawal of forces had led to a succession of attacks throughout the country.

“China calls on foreign troops in Afghanistan to take into full account the security of people in the country and the region, pull out in a responsible manner and avoid inflicting more turmoil and suffering on the Afghan people,” he said.

Condemning the killing of civilians, India’s Foreign Ministry said the death of more than 50 young girls made this an attack on the future of Afghanistan.

“The perpetrators clearly seek to destroy the painstaking and hard-won achievements that the Afghans have put in place over the last two decades,” a statement said.

Thailand assures foreign residents they can be vaccinated

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Thailand sought Thursday to assure its foreign residents that they can get COVID-19 vaccinations, countering comments by some officials suggesting they would be at the end of the line for inoculations.

Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, made the pledge as Thailand fought to control an outbreak in the heart of its capital that has sickened thousands of people in the past month, Thais and foreigners alike.

He said all at least 70% of Thailand’s population had to be inoculated to create herd immunity and that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha “mentioned clearly that everyone on Thai soil, both Thais and foreigners, can access the vaccines.”

“Foreigners and diplomats will have the same criteria as Thais,” Opas said, adding that the country had a population of 67 million Thai nationals and 3 million foreigners.

More than 2.5 million foreigners in Thailand are from neighboring countries, including Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Many work on construction sites and in factories. The rest, about 200,000, are mostly professionals legally living in Thailand and retirees — from Australia, China, Britain, Europe and the United States.

Opas’ comments came after some health authorities had said foreigners legally living in the country would have to wait until the entire Thai population was inoculated to get the shots.

With strict travel restrictions in place, many foreign residents would need to make time consuming and expensive trips abroad to get the shots.

“We have followed international practice,” he said. “Thais and foreigners including diplomats will be treated equally. ”

Thailand has been very slow and haphazard in its vaccination rollout and showed no sense of urgency until early April, when new infections began sweeping through slums and low-income areas located in and around Bangkok’s central business district.

Less than 2% of all Thais have been inoculated for COVID-19, mostly health workers, but the government says it intends to vaccinate 70% by the end of the year.

Until recently, Thailand had relatively few cases and less than 100 deaths. It only signed deals for the local manufacturing of AstraZeneca vaccines in late 2020, choosing at first only to import China’s Sinovac vaccines.

The effort gained urgency as new cases surged to about 2,000 a day, as deaths began escalating.

On Thursday, Thailand reported 1,911 new cases and 18 new deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 76,811, with 336 deaths. Of the total cases, 47,948 cases were since April 1, along with most deaths.

Thailand closed its borders to almost all travelers for months last year and it has been requiring visitors to the country to present tests showing they are not positive for COVID-19 and spend up to 14 days in mandatory quarantines.

The latest outbreaks are a big setback for plans to allow fully vaccinated foreign visitors to enter the country with no quarantine to help revive the devastated tourism industry. Nearly 40 million tourists visited Thailand in 2019, compared to almost none after the government ordered the airports closed to most international travel in April 2020.

Critics of Thailand’s handling of the crisis assert that local business interests played a role in delaying and limiting vaccination efforts.

Only three vaccines have been authorized for use in Thailand and only two have been administered so far: the AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines. The government now says it is trying to import U.S. and Russian-made vaccines, but they likely face a lengthy authorization process.