'Extremely limited' crowds for Biden inauguration in Covid shadow

By: AFP      Published: 11:29 PM, 15 Dec, 2020
'Extremely limited' crowds for Biden inauguration in Covid shadow

Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States at the US Capitol on January 20, but with Covid-19 ravaging the country the crowd will be far smaller than usual, his inaugural committee said Tuesday.

"Vigorous health and safety protocols" will be in place when Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris take the oath of office at a public ceremony in Washington, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said in a statement.

The 78-year-old Biden will "deliver an inaugural address that lays out his vision to beat the virus, build back better, and bring the country together," the committee said.

"The ceremony's footprint will be extremely limited, and the parade that follows will be reimagined," it said.

The committee said it was "urging the public to refrain from any travel and participate in the inaugural activities from home."

The pandemic is currently killing record numbers of people in the US and is expected to keep causing havoc through the winter.

That means there will not be the traditionally large crowds on the National Mall and the throng of politicians on the steps of the Capitol.

There is also a crucial question mark over whether the outgoing president, Donald Trump, will attend the ceremony, as is the tradition, symbolizing the peaceful transfer of power.

Trump has refused to recognize his defeat to Biden and has not said what his plans are for the inauguration.

It is also unclear whether Trump will host Biden and his wife, Jill, for the customary courtesy visit at the White House prior to the handover.

Maju Varghese, the executive director of the inauguration, told The Washington Post that creative ways would be found to transmit the ceremonies to the American people watching on television or online.

"The idea of some of the models you've seen through the pandemic -- from screens at NBA games or different camera angles to watch events at home -- are things our creative team and digital team is thinking about," Varghese told the Post.

"Rather than thinking about all the things we can't do, we're thinking about all the things we can do."

Varghese said virtual technology would be especially useful in trying to replicate the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, with video links bringing in people from around the country.

"There are traditions that we really want to hold on to," Varghese said. "We're trying to do that with the swearing in."