President-elect Biden urges unity, says the US is at war with the virus, not with one another

President-elect Joe Biden has been spreading a message of unity in an effort to reach the nearly 74 million Americans who voted for President Donald Trump. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday (Nov 25) delivered a raw but optimistic address to Americans in his first non-political speech since winning the election, pleading with the nation to "hang on" and have hope even with the number of coronavirus cases spiking across the country and a hard winter on the horizon.

"Looking back over our history, you see that it's been in the most difficult circumstances that the soul of our nation has been forged," Mr Biden said, speaking directly to the camera from a stage at the Queen, a historic theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, where he stepped into a void left for him by President Donald Trump, who has been rarely seen since the election.

In an implicit repudiation of Mr Trump, who has dismissed the coronavirus as the flu and mocked people who wear masks, Mr Biden urged Americans to see it as their patriotic duty to fight the pandemic together by taking the proper precautions.

"I know the country has grown weary of the fight," he said. "We need to remember we're at war with the virus, not with one another, not with each other."

As he urged Americans to wear face masks, practise social distancing and limit the size of group gatherings, especially around the holidays, he noted: "None of these steps we're asking people to take are political statements. Every one of them is based on science, real science."

He said he hoped the good news about effective vaccines would "serve as an incentive to every American to take these simple steps to get control of the virus. There's real hope, tangible hope. So hang on".

In the 2.5 weeks since Mr Biden's election win became clear, he has been spreading a message of unity in an effort to reach the nearly 74 million Americans who voted for Mr Trump. On the eve of Thanksgiving, he also addressed the pandemic head on with a mix of realism and hope.

"Many local health systems are at risk of being overwhelmed," he said. "That's the plain and simple truth. Nothing made up, it's real. I believe you always deserve to hear the truth, hear the truth from your president."

He added: "Each of us has a responsibility in our own lives to do what we can do to slow the virus."

Mr Biden, aides said, decided about 10 days ago to give a Thanksgiving address as he watched coronavirus cases spiking across the country and thought about how his own typically large family gathering was going to be scaled down this year. (In his speech, he said he would be celebrating at home with his wife, Jill, their daughter, Ashley, and her husband.)

Mr Biden spoke minutes after Mr Trump called into a hotel gathering of Republican state lawmakers in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to discuss with them and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani baseless allegations of voting irregularities in the state.

Mr Trump again claimed he won the election he had lost and demanded that the election results be "turned" in his favour.

Mr Trump, in the early days of the pandemic, had tried to brand himself a "wartime president", before claiming, inaccurately, that the country had "rounded the curve".

Mr Biden on Wednesday appeared to pick up the wartime mantle, describing the coronavirus pandemic as "a nearly yearlong battle" that has "devastated this nation".

"America is not going to lose this war," he said. "Don't let yourself surrender to the fatigue."

Mr Biden also tried to paint an optimistic vision of the future, despite the current crisis, and asked Americans to dream again.

"We're going to lead the world by the power of our example, not just the example of our power," he said. "We're going to lead the world on climate and save this planet. We're going to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer's and diabetes, I promise you."

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