Biden to mark 500,000 lives lost with ceremony

WASHINGTON (AP) – United States (US) President Joe Biden will mark the US crossing 500,000 lives lost from COVID-19 with a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony at the White House. The nation is expected to pass the grim milestone on yesterday, just over a year after the first confirmed US fatality due to the novel coronavirus.

The White House said Biden will deliver remarks at sunset to honour those who lost their lives. He will be joined by first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. They will participate in the moment of silence and lighting ceremony.

Biden has made a point of recognising the lives lost from the virus. His first event upon arriving in Washington for his inauguration a month ago was to deliver remarks at a COVID-19 memorial ceremony.

Meanwhile, The White House said about a third of the coronavirus vaccine doses delayed by this week’s winter weather have been delivered this weekend.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration has been working with shippers and states to close the roughly six million dose backlog created this week as power outages closed some vaccination centres and icy weather stranded some vaccine in shipping hubs.

Psaki said the administration is making sure those catch-up doses out to vaccination centers “as soon as they can handle them”.

Motorists wait to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a federally-run vaccination site set up on the campus of California State University of Los Angeles. PHOTO: AP

US President Chief Medical Adviser Dr Anthony Fauci called the United States’ approaching milestone of half a million deaths from the coronavirus as “terribly historic” and stressed the need for continuing public health measures.

Fauci said with virus infections overall going down and vaccinations continuing things are improving but that the US remains in a “terrible situation” and people should remain mindful of wearing masks and keeping social distance. He expected a “significant degree of normality” in everyday life toward the end of the year but that it was “possible” people will still need to be wearing masks into 2022.

He said ultimately it will depend on the trajectory of COVID-19 variants as well as whether an “overwhelming majority” of people get vaccinated. Fauci said he wants to see infections get to a “very, very low” baseline before backing off recommendations to wear a mask, when the risk of exposure to someone with COVID-19 has become minimal.

In California, the death toll during the coronavirus pandemic has topped 49,000, even as the rates of new infections and hospitalisations continue to plummet across the state. California reported another 408 deaths on Sunday, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 49,105 — the highest in the US. In Texas, the number of coronavirus related deaths increased by more than 200 on Saturday while the number of people hospitalised with the virus declined, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

There were an additional 227 COVID-19 deaths, more than 4,900 new cases and 7,535 hospitalizations, a decline of 222 people hospitalised, the department reported.