WASHINGTON DC, USA: More than 500,000 people in the United States with coronavirus have died, according to Johns Hopkins University data, the highest death toll by far of any country in the world.
The country reached the harrowing tally on Monday, just about a year after the first known death was reported in the state of California.
President Joe Biden has addressed the nation as the US passed the figure of 500,000 Covid-related deaths, the highest number of any country.
“As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate. We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” he said.
The president and vice-president, and their spouses, then observed a moment of silence outside the White House during a candle-lighting ceremony.
Confirmed US infections now stand at 28.1 million, also a global record.
“Today I ask all Americans to remember. Remember those we lost and remember those we left behind,” President Biden said, calling for Americans to fight Covid together.
“Today, we mark a truly heartbreaking milestone – 500,071 dead,” US President Joe Biden said after a moment of silence was observed on Monday evening at the White House, which was lighted by hundreds of candles representing those who have died.
“That is more Americans who have died in one year of this pandemic than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. That is more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on earth,” Biden said.
“But as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived. They were people we knew or people we feel like we knew.”
In recent weeks, Covid-19 infection rates have started to drop as the Biden administration ramped up vaccinations and put more public health restrictions in place to try to stem the spread of the virus.
But on Sunday, Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said while case numbers are decreasing rapidly from a recent peak, Americans need to remain cautious as the US has not vaccinated enough people to reach herd immunity yet.
“We haven’t seen anything even close to this for well over 100 years, since the 1918 pandemic of influenza. It’s stunning when you look at the numbers – almost unbelievable, but it’s true,” Fauci said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press programme.
“The slope that’s coming down is really terrific – it’s very steep and it’s coming down very, very quickly. But we are still at a level that’s very high,” he said.
“The baseline of daily infections is still very, very high … We want to get that baseline really, really, really low before we start thinking that we’re out of the woods.”
The president ordered all flags on federal property to be lowered to half mast for the next five days.
At the White House, he opened his speech by noting that the number of American deaths from Covid was higher than the death toll from World War One, World War Two, and the Vietnam War combined.
“Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone – 500,071 dead,” he said.
“We often hear people described as ordinary Americans,” he went on to say. “There’s no such thing, there’s nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary. They span generations. Born in America, emigrated to America.”
“So many of them took their final breath alone in America.”
He drew on his own experience with grief – his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972 and one of his sons died from brain cancer in 2015.
“I know what it’s like to not be there when it happens. I know what it’s like when you are there holding their hands; there’s a look in their eye and they slip away,” he said.
“For me, the way through sorrow and grief is to find purpose.”
Biden’s approach to the pandemic is different to his predecessor, Donald Trump, who cast doubt on the impact of the deadly virus and was viewed as having politicised the wearing of masks and other measures needed to prevent the spread of the virus.