Joe Biden honours Covid-19 victims on eve of inauguration

20 January 2021, 06:17 | Updated: 20 January 2021, 06:18

By Kate Buck

US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have marked the grim milestone of 400,000 American Covid-19 deaths as they arrived in Washington ahead of their inauguration.

Coronavirus is now the the worst public health crisis in more than a century - a crisis which Mr Biden will now be charged with controlling.

"To heal we must remember," the incoming president told the nation at a sunset ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial.

Four hundred lights representing the pandemic's victims were illuminated behind him around the monument's Reflecting Pool.

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"Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights into the darkness ... and remember all who we lost," he said.

The sober moment on the eve of Mr Biden's inauguration - typically a celebratory time in Washington when the nation marks the democratic tradition of a peaceful transfer of power - was a measure of the enormity of loss for the nation.

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their spouses gather for a Covid-19 memorial upon their arrival into Washington DC
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their spouses gather for a Covid-19 memorial upon their arrival into Washington DC. Picture: PA
Biden will focus on getting the pandemic back under control when he takes the reigns later today
Biden will focus on getting the pandemic back under control when he takes the reigns later today. Picture: PA

During his brief remarks, Mr Biden faced the larger-than life statue of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War president who served as more than 600,000 Americans died.

As he turned to walk away at the conclusion of the vigil, he faced the black granite wall listing the 58,000-plus Americans who perished in Vietnam.

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Mr Biden was joined by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who spoke of the collective anguish of the nation, a not-so-subtle admonishment of outgoing President Donald Trump, who has spoken sparingly about the pandemic in recent months.

"For many months we have grieved by ourselves," said Ms Harris, who will make history as the first woman to serve as vice president when she's sworn in.

"Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together."

400 lights stretching to the Washington memorial each represented 1,000 deaths
400 lights stretching to the Washington memorial each represented 1,000 deaths. Picture: PA

The running total of lives lost, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is nearly equal to the number of Americans killed in the Second World War.

It is about the population of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Tampa, Florida; or New Orleans. It is equivalent to the crowd that was at Woodstock in 1969.

It is just short of the estimated 409,000 Americans who died in 2019 of strokes, Alzheimer's, diabetes, flu and pneumonia combined.

And the virus is not finished with the US by any means, even with the arrival of the vaccines that could finally end the outbreak: A widely cited model by the University of Washington projects the death toll will reach nearly 567,000 by May 1.

While the Trump administration has been credited with Operation Warp Speed, the programme to develop and distribute coronavirus vaccines, President Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat, mocked masks, railed against lockdowns, promoted unproven and unsafe treatments, undercut scientific experts and expressed scant compassion for the victims.

Even his own bout of Covid-19 seemed to leave him unchanged.

The White House defended the administration.

"We grieve every single life lost to this pandemic, and thanks to the president's leadership, Operation Warp Speed has led to the development of multiple safe and effective vaccines in record time, something many said would never happen," said White House spokesman Judd Deere.