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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 3 March 2021

‘We have to resist becoming numb,’ Biden says of 500,000 US Covid deaths

National moment of silence led outside the White House with 500 candles lit to symbolise the half million dead

On Monday night, US President Joe Biden led a national moment of silence in a memorial ceremony after the country passed half a million registered deaths from Covid-19, by far the world's worst toll.

"Today, we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone – 500,071 dead," Mr Biden said from the White House.

"That's more Americans who've died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. That's more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth."

His wife Dr Jill Biden, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, joined Mr Biden for a short candle-lighting ceremony.

A Marine Corps band played Amazing Grace as the four stood outside the White House.

Five hundred candles representing the 500,000 dead were lit along the steps off the South Portico.

The National Cathedral in Washington tolled its bell 500 times, once for every 1,000 deaths in the US, on Monday evening.

"We often hear people described as ordinary Americans," Mr Biden said. "The people we lost were extraordinary. They spanned generations, born in America, immigrated to America.

"But just like that, so many of them took their last breath alone in America."

The US also leads the world with the most recorded cases of Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.

And the high death toll is likely to be an underestimate.

"As a nation, we can't accept such a cruel fate," Mr Biden said.

"While we've been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or blur or on the news."

The sombre milestone was reached nearly a year after the first US Covid death.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a moment of silence on the House floor on Monday to remember the many people who died from Covid-19.

Mr Biden also ordered all flags on federal property, including embassies and military facilities abroad, to be lowered to half-staff for five days.

Flags at the White House and the US Capitol moved to half-staff just before sundown on Monday.

Monday's event was the second Covid-related memorial Mr Biden and Ms Harris held for the US outbreak, after the one they held the night before they entered office.

That lighting ceremony involved 400 lights along the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial on January 19, the day the US death toll passed 400,000.

That milestone occurred on the last day former president Donald Trump was in office.

Mr Biden on Monday evening referred to his personal experience of loss and grief over the death of his youngest son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer.

"We will get through this, I promise you," he said. "But my heart aches for those of you who are going through it right now.

"May God bless you all, particularly those who have lost someone."

Updated: February 23, 2021 04:40 AM

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