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Coronavirus: Biden leads observance of US’s 400,000 dead on eve of inauguration

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President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday led a national memorial observance on the eve of his inauguration to honor the 400,000 Americans who have perished from COVID-19 during the 11 months since the novel coronavirus claimed its first US life.

The sundown commemoration came hours before President Donald Trump was due to leave the White House for the last time and hand over a country racked by the greatest public health crisis in a century, economic devastation and violent political upheaval.

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Ceremonies spearheaded by Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris from the base of the Lincoln Memorial marked the federal government’s first official nod to the staggering death toll from the pandemic.

“To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation,” Biden said to kick off a tribute that included observances in cities across the country.

As he spoke, 400 electric lamps lining the sides of the memorial’s Reflecting Pool were illuminated to honor the lives lost, followed by gospel star Yolanda Adams’ performance of the song “Hallelujah,” then a moment of silence.

Michigan hospital nurse Lori Marie Key sang “Amazing Grace” before Biden took the podium. After he spoke, about 4 miles (6.5 kilometer) away, the bells of the National Cathedral tolled 400 times.

“Though we may be physically separated, we the American people are united in spirit,” Harris said before introducing Key. “My abiding prayer is that we emerge from his ordeal with a new wisdom - to cherish simple moments, to imagine new possibilities and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another.”

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The US on Tuesday surpassed 24 million known COVID-19 infections and 400,000 lives lost since the nation’s first documented COVID-19 death in February of 2020, according to a Reuters tally. The country has averaged more than 200,000 new cases and 3,220 deaths a day over the past week, and has the highest COVID-19 death toll in the world.

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