President-elect Joe Biden has led a national memorial observance on the eve of his inauguration to honour the 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.
The sundown commemoration came just hours before President Donald Trump was due to leave the White House and hand over a country in crisis.
The ceremony, 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.
“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 in brief remarks to kick off a tribute that was to include observances in cities across the country.
As darkness fell over the nation’s capital, 400 electric lamps lining the sides of the Reflecting Pool were illuminated to honour the 400,000 lives lost, followed by gospel singer Yolanda Adams’ performance of the song Hallelujah, then a moment of silence in memory of the dead.
“Though we may be physically separated, we the American people are united in spirit,” Harris said separately.
About seven kilometres from where Biden appeared, the bells of the National Cathedral were tolled 400 times after he spoke.
The United States surpassed 24 million COVID-19 infections and 400,000 lives lost from the virus, according to a Reuters tally.
The country has recorded more than 200,000 new cases and 3,220 deaths on average over the past seven days.
The observance marked the beginning of a new era in the country’s battle against COVID-19 under Mr Biden, who has pledged to make coronavirus relief a top priority when he takes office on Wednesday under unprecedented security measures in the nation’s capital.