The White House has announced that it will lift travel bans on eight southern African countries from December 31.

The travel restrictions were introduced on November 29 due to the rise in cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. The ban applied to non-US citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Reuters reported that travellers who have been in one of the eight countries within the prior 14 days will be allowed on US-bound flights leaving after 0001 on December 31.

Kevin Munoz, White House Assistant Press Secretary, also tweeted that the decision was recommended by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

He added that the “restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp boosted.”

The Reuters report also quoted an official from the White House as stating:

“This travel pause has served its purpose. It bought time to understand the science, it gave time to analyze the variant.

“This was not meant to keep Omicron out. We knew we couldn’t do that. The point was to reduce the number of cases coming in – in those early days and weeks.”

The UK introduced a ban on the eight African countries ahead of the US, but has since removed the countries from its red list due to the rise in cases of the variant in the UK.