In Washington, Biden leads US tribute to 400,000 COVID dead

In Washington, Biden leads US tribute to 400,000 COVID dead

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — US President-elect Joe Biden led a simple but powerful tribute Tuesday to the 400,000-plus Americans lost to the coronavirus, as he arrived in Washington on the eve of his inauguration.

"It's hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation," Biden said in sombre, brief remarks near the edge of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

"Let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we have lost," the 78-year-old Democrat said as 400 lights lining the water were turned on as a memorial to those who have died.

Church bells pealed across Washington, while lights on New Yorks' Empire State Building glowed red, resembling a beating heart.

Biden, who himself has suffered deep personal tragedy of his own and who is known for his empathy, has stressed the need to unite the nation after the chaos of outgoing President Donald Trump's four years in office.

Inauguration eve is normally a time of massive crowds in Washington. 

But Biden, joined by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, visited the reflecting pool under the extraordinary sight of a National Mall virtually empty of people, thanks to COVID-related social gathering restrictions and heightened security alerts in the wake of the deadly riot at the US Capitol on January 6.

On the Mall's grassy expanse, instead of crowds of well-wishers there are thousands of US flags and those of the nation's 50 states, placed to honour the people who cannot be in Washington for the inauguration.

"For many months, we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together," Harris — who makes history as the country's first female vice president — said at the brief reflecting pool ceremony.

"Though we may be physically separated, we the American people are united in spirit."

Earlier in the afternoon Biden offered a tearful farewell to residents of his home state of Delaware before flying to the city where he served for decades as a senator, then for eight years as vice president.

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