US President-elect Joe Biden returned to Washington ahead of his inauguration to mark the national tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic with a moment of collective grief for Americans lost.
His arrival coincided with the news that the US death toll had surpassed 400,000 in 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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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