Pope wears mask, warns against political exploitation of coronavirus

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis, seen wearing a mask for the first time in public, said on Wednesday no one should seek political gain from the coronavirus and that vaccine developers should not see it as a chance to make a profit.

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At his second weekly general audience with public participation after six months of virtual audiences, the pope was seen wearing a white mask as he entered and left his car and using sanitizer occasionally squirted onto his hands by an aide.

He asked about 500 people in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard to remain in their seats to keep social distancing and told them in the address that the pandemic should spur everyone to work for the common good.

“Unfortunately, we are witnessing the emergence of partisan interests. For example, there are those who want to appropriate possible solutions for themselves, such as (developing) vaccines and then selling them to others,” he said.

“Some are taking advantage of the situation to foment divisions, to create economic or political advantages, to start or intensify conflict,” he said, without specifying.

The pandemic and the quest for a vaccine have become hot-button issues in the U.S. presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Trump wants to fast-track a vaccine, which he has said is coming “very, very soon”. The virus has killed more than 186,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs.

Biden has charged that Trump is politicizing the issue to help his re-election and has called for any vaccine to be produced and distributed following established scientific standards without outside political interference.

The pope called people who turn their backs on the suffering coronavirus had caused “devotees of Pontius Pilate who simply wash their hands of it,” referring to the ancient Roman governor of Judea who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion but refused to take responsibility for it.

Francis said while “politics often does not have a good reputation,” there had been many politicians in the course of history “who were saints”. He did not name any.

Editing by Janet Lawrence