WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday crossed a grim “heartbreaking milestone” in its fight against COVID-19 as the death toll due to the disease crossed 500,000, a staggering figure that is more than the combined American casualties during World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.
“As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate. 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 a blurb or on the news,” President Joe Biden said on Monday as he led the nation in mourning the dead.
“Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone – 500,071 dead,” Biden said at a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House to mark the grim milestone.
More than 28.1 million Americans have also been infected – another global record.
He also participated in a moment of silence, standing by 500 lighted candles outside the White House, joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff.
Biden, a Democrat, said efforts should be made to end the politics and misinformation that has divided families, communities in the country.
Noting that the pandemic has cost too many lives already, he said it is not the Democrats and the Republicans who are dying from the virus–it’s the fellow Americans.
Biden’s approach to the pandemic is different to his predecessor Donald Trump, a Republican, who cast doubt on the impact of the deadly virus and was viewed as having politicised the wearing of masks and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Citing the figure of 500,071 dead in the US, Biden said, “that’s more Americans who’ve died in one year–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. But as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America remember each person and the life they lived,” he said.
The US recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War, according to media reports.
Biden said the people who died due to COVID-19 were extraordinary and span generations.
“The people we lost are extraordinary. They span generations. Born in America, immigrated to America; but just like that, so many of them took their final breath alone in America,” he said.
“We must do so to honour the dead, but equally important–care for the living–those who are left behind. For the loved ones left behind, I know all too well. I know what it’s like to not be there when it happens,” he said.
Biden asked all Americans to remember those they lost, and those left behind.
“But as you remember, as we all remember I also ask us to act–to remain vigilant–to say–stay socially distant, to mask up. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn. We must end the politics and misinformation that’s divided families, communities in the country,” Biden said.
“We have to fight this together as one people–as the United States of America. That’s the only way we are going to beat this virus I promise you,” he said.
“The People’s House. Your house. We ask you to join us. To remember so we can heal. To find purpose in the work ahead. To show that there is light in the darkness. This nation will smile again. This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again,” Biden said.
Elsewhere in Washington, the bells at the National Cathedral tolled 500 times on Monday, once for every thousand Americans lost during the pandemic.