Biden will kick off inaugural events at a ceremony honouring victims of Covid-19

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – US President-elect Joe Biden will arrive in the nation’s capital on Tuesday evening (Jan 19) for an inauguration eve ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool honouring the nearly 400,000 people who have died during the coronavirus pandemic that will be his first priority after he is sworn in the next day.

The sombre remembrance will kick off two days of in-person and virtual events as Mr Biden takes the oath of office on Jan 20, becoming the 46th president of the United States at a time of economic struggle and cultural upheaval in the wake of President Donald Trump’s four years in the White House.

Mr Biden has planned a mix of celebratory, upbeat events to mark the occasion – singer Garth Brooks was the most recent addition to the list of those performing at his swearing-in ceremony – along with more serious moments aimed at marking the grim times that many Americans are facing as he takes office.

Instead of an in-person parade along Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr Biden’s inaugural committee on Monday provided details about a virtual “Parade Across America” that will start at 3.15 Wednesday afternoon after Mr Biden’s swearing-in.

The parade will be kicked off with Mr Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris walking to the White House escorted by drum lines from the University of Delaware and Howard University, their alma maters.

The virtual “parade” will include performances by the US Coast Guard Band and the US Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon as well as marching bands, drill teams, Scout troops, dancers and drummers from around the country.

The events will be live-streamed on multiple platforms, officials said.

On Tuesday, Mr Biden and Ms Harris, along with their families, will be present as 400 lights are turned on to illuminate the perimeter of the Reflecting Pool. Each light is meant to represent approximately 1,000 Americans who will have perished from the virus at the time of his swearing-in.

That event will kick off “a national moment of unity” at 5.30pm Eastern time (6.30am Singapore time) that will include similar memorials at the Empire State Building, the Space Needle in Seattle and other landmarks across the country, with events also planned for Mr Biden’s hometowns, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware.

The inauguration “represents the beginning of a new national journey – one that renews its commitment to honour its fallen and rise toward greater heights in their honour,” the inaugural committee’s chief executive, Mr Tony Allen, the president of Delaware State University, said in a statement.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, will deliver the invocation at the Lincoln Memorial event. Two acclaimed gospel singers, Ms Yolanda Adams and Ms Lori Marie Key, will perform at the commemoration.

In recent days, the committee’s staff has reached out to church and civic leaders around the country to participate in the memorial, with a particular focus on involving Black and Latino communities, which have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic.

Mr Biden has said reaching out to people who opposed his candidacy will be a central theme of his inaugural address as he urges a divided America to come together to confront the pandemic and other challenges.

Mr Biden spent about 45 minutes on Monday morning volunteering at a Philadelphia food bank to mark the national day of service and Martin Luther King Jr Day.

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The President-elect worked a conveyor belt assembling food boxes at Philabundance, an organisation founded in 1984 that distributes food to pantries and emergency shelters across nine counties in Pennsylvania, according to Mr Biden’s transition team.

Wearing a black face mask, a Philabundance baseball cap and his trademark aviator sunglasses, Mr Biden placed canned goods, two at a time, into each food box. And Mrs Jill Biden, who will become the first lady on Wednesday, added packages of rice to the boxes while disco music played over loudspeakers.

Mr Biden’s decision to volunteer at the food bank on Monday was consistent with many of his predecessors in both parties who frequently engaged in a public service event on the holiday.

Mr Trump largely ignored the service component of the holiday. In 2018, he drew criticism for going to play golf instead.

Mr Trump’s public schedule for Monday indicated, as it has on most days for the last several weeks, that he planned to “work from early in the morning until late in the evening” and “make many calls and have many meetings”.

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