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As the pandemic’s toll mounts and his inauguration approaches, Biden takes charge. | Press "Enter" to skip to content

As the pandemic’s toll mounts and his inauguration approaches, Biden takes charge.

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With the United States reaching a once-unthinkable coronavirus pandemic death toll of 400,000 people on Tuesday, the eve of his inauguration as president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. is assuming the role of mourner in chief and projecting an air of command of the issue that has vexed the Trump administration for the past year.

The president-elect arrived in the nation’s capital Tuesday evening for a somber inauguration-eve ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, where 400 lights were illuminated along the perimeter of the reflecting pool. Each is meant to represent approximately 1,000 Americans who have died during the pandemic.

On Monday night, as President Trump ordered an end to the ban on travelers from Europe and Brazil that had been aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus to the United States, Mr. Biden’s aides said he would rescind the move when he takes office on Wednesday, before it was scheduled to go into effect.

Mr. Trump’s order was issued at a time of heightened anxiety over the coronavirus and what Mr. Biden has warned will be a “dark winter.” The country has experienced a post-holidays surge in cases that has overwhelmed some hospitals and led to record numbers of deaths. The national vaccination rollout has been slow and chaotic. And a more contagious virus variant is spreading, while others are being discovered.

Mr. Biden has declared getting control of the pandemic the central issue of his administration, and has been highly critical of how his predecessor handled the worst public health crisis in more than 100 years.

Mr. Trump, in a proclamation, said that the travel restrictions, which apply to noncitizens trying to come to the United States, would no longer be needed on Jan. 26, once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention start requiring proof of a negative virus test before boarding for all passengers from abroad.

The proclamation appeared to be an effort to help the airline and hospitality industries.

Mr. Trump wrote that Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, had recommended ending the restrictions for most parts of Europe and Brazil, while maintaining them for Iran and China, which Mr. Trump said had not been cooperative.

Jennifer Psaki, who will be Mr. Biden’s White House press secretary, said the new administration would not allow the directives to take effect.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she tweeted.

In Washington, the Tuesday night event at the Lincoln Memorial kicked off “a national moment of unity” at 5:30 p.m. Eastern that will include similar commemorations at the Empire State Building in New York, the Space Needle in Seattle and other landmarks, with events also planned for Mr. Biden’s hometowns, Scranton, Pa., and Wilmington, Del.

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

Michael D. Shear and Glenn Thrush contributed reporting.


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