President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued a presidential proclamation revoking the one put in place last month to lift all travel restrictions on eight South African countries. The ban ends as of 12:01 AM ET on December 31.

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Last month, Biden placed travel restrictions on eight African countries –  South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi – when the omicron variant was on a rise. The measures barred nearly all foreign nationals who had been physically present in the countries during the “14-day period preceding their entry, or attempted entry into the United States.” The restrictions, however, dis not apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents although those individuals needed to test negative prior to travelling.

In his proclamation on Tuesday, the president said the restrictions “are no longer necessary to protect the public health” and will be lifted after midnight on December 31.

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“Having learned more about the Omicron variant in the past several weeks, the CDC now recommends lifting the travel restrictions. Since I issued that proclamation, our Nation’s health officials, in collaboration with the South African scientists who originally reported the variant, have made substantial progress in understanding the Omicron variant,” Biden’s proclamation read. 

The travel restrictions on African countries by the US were described as travel apartheid by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres. 

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The proclamation further added that scientists have determined that people vaccinated against COVID-19 are protected against severe disease and hospitalisation from the omicron variant.

 “It also said that the variant is now in over 100 countries and is prevalent” in the US, where cases have been rising for weeks. It said that substantial progress has been made in understanding the omicron variant.”

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On December 21, the president had said that he was considering lifting the restrictions and officials said Biden had been urged in recent days to reverse the ban. 

However, the eight countries will be subject to the same coronavirus travel protocols the US has imposed on other countries. Foreign travellers will be required to be fully vaccinated and all of them will have to get a negative coronavirus test within one day of departure to the US.