File: US President Joe Biden led a brief silent prayer for the victims during his inauguration ceremony. AFP/Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden warned during his inauguration the deadliest phase of the coronavirus contagion was yet to come.
The United States has already suffered more than 400,000 deaths -- almost one-fifth of the global toll -- since the coronavirus epidemic took hold early last year.
"We're entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation," said Biden, who led a brief silent prayer for the victims during his inauguration ceremony.
His renewed pledge to tackle the virus came as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that more than 60 countries were now grappling with a UK strain and 23 nations had reported a South African variant, both of which are believed to be more infectious.
The US has attracted wide criticism over its haphazard attempts to tackle the virus under former president Donald Trump, who frequently undermined the advice of government experts on mask-wearing and other precautions.
Biden's point-man for fighting the pandemic said the new leader would establish an office of COVID-19 response inside the White House and rejoin the WHO.
"America's withdrawal from the international arena has impeded progress on the global response and left us more vulnerable to future pandemics," said Jeff Zients.
He added that leading US coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci will lead a delegation to take part in the WHO Executive Board meeting on Thursday.