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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

Biden calls for national healing at Covid-19 vigil

President-elect speaks soon after the US passes grim milestone of 400,000 coronavirus deaths

On Tuesday, the eve of his inauguration, Joe Biden held a vigil at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington to honour those who lost their lives in the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn into office in Washington on Wednesday amid fears of renewed violence by supporters of departing President Donald Trump, and after the US passed a grim milestone of 400,000 Covid-19 deaths.

Across the country, candles were lit in windows, church bells rang and landmark buildings were illuminated as images of the commemoration were shared by social media users on the #CovidMemorial hashtag.

“To heal, we must remember,” Mr Biden said in a brief and sombre ceremony. “It’s hard sometimes to remember. But that’s how we heal.

"It’s important to do that as a nation. That's why we're here today. Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness ... and remember all who we've lost.”

As the president-elect spoke, 400 lights were lit around the reflection pool.

Across the US, landmarks such as the Empire State Building in New York City and the Space Needle in Seattle also lit up.

The US has been the most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with about 24.2 million infections and a death toll nearly equal to the number of Americans killed in the Second World War.

The death rate has increased in recent months and reached record levels in January.

A University of Washington model projects the toll will reach 567,000 by May 1.

While the Trump administration has been credited with Operation Warp Speed, the programme to develop and distribute Covid-19 vaccines, the president’s handling of the crisis has been judged a failure by public health experts.

In his farewell address, Mr Trump defended his record against the pathogen, saying his administration’s nearly $4 trillion economic relief package “saved or supported over 50 million jobs”.

“We grieve for every life lost, and we pledge in their memory to wipe out this horrible pandemic once and for all,” he said in a video address on Tuesday.

After his inauguration, Mr Biden is set to impose mask-wearing rules on all federal property as well as planes and buses, reverse Mr Trump’s decision to exit the World Health Organisation and seek a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.

The new funds will be used to speed up the distribution of coronavirus vaccines while providing economic support to struggling businesses and relief to millions of Americans affected by the pandemic.

Mr Biden is also expected to quickly extend rules barring travel by most people who have recently been in parts of Europe and Brazil, reversing another decision from Mr Trump, who lifted those requirements effective from January 26.

An opinion survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Centre found that 79 per cent of adults in the US said they thought another Covid-19 relief package was needed, compared to 20 per cent who said no new bailout was necessary.

Earlier on Tuesday, EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell called on Mr Biden to show global leadership and make the US “an engine of the world” for distributing vaccines across the globe.

“The world will face this year one of the biggest challenges to vaccinating humankind,” the EU foreign policy chief told Reuters.

“This will require a lot of solidarity, a lot of co-operation and quite a lot of resources.”

Updated: January 20, 2021 12:12 PM

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