By ASHRAF KHALIL
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. will lift travel restrictions on eight southern African countries that it imposed to try to blunt the spread of the COVID omicron variant. The White House says the temporary travel bans bought scientists necessary time to study the new virus variant first discovered in South Africa. The World Health Organization and leaders in southern Africa criticized the travel ban as ineffective. The ban had barred entry to all non-U.S. citizens who had been in South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It will be lifted on New Year’s Eve.