WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden will swear the oath of office at noon local time in Washington, DC, on Wednesday to become the 46th president of the United States, taking the helm of a deeply divided nation and inheriting a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors.

The very ceremony in which presidential power is transferred, a hallowed US democratic tradition, will serve as a jarring reminder of the challenges he faces. The inauguration unfolds at a US Capitol battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks ago, encircled by security forces and devoid of crowds because of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed 400,000 American lives.

Mr Biden will not be applauded, or probably even acknowledged, by his predecessor. Flouting tradition, Donald Trump plans to depart Washington on Wednesday morning ahead of the inauguration rather than accompany his successor to the Capitol, holding his own “farewell” reception as the world turns the page on four years of chaos and division under his leadership.