Qatar World Cup coverage in China has sparked an uproar among Weibo users, who have been speaking out against the Chinese government’s implementation of its strict zero-COVID policy.
Initial coverage of the football tournament that showed audiences not wearing protective masks in Qatar has caused many in China to question the continued widespread lockdowns, quarantines and mass-testing campaigns in the country.
Weibo users pointed out that the maskless crowds show that the rest of the world has found a means to live with COVID-19 without excessive measures, according to Agence France-Presse.
"Some people are watching World Cup matches in person with no masks, some have been locked at home for a month, locked on campus for two months without even being able to step out the door," a Guangdong-based Weibo user wrote on Wednesday. "Who has stolen my life? I won't say."
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"The World Cup has allowed most Chinese people to see the real situation abroad, and worry about the economy of the motherland, and their own youth," wrote a Weibo user from Shaanxi province.
An open letter asking the government if China was "on the same planet" as Qatar was widely spread on Weibo before being scrubbed by online censors.
Following the backlash, state broadcaster CCTV Sports reportedly began removing shots of fans without protective masks in its coverage of the Sunday match between Japan and Costa Rica. Other local broadcasters have also reportedly been found to remove crowd shots in other matches, including the Saturday game between Australia and Tunisia.
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Instead of close-up shots of maskless fans cheering and waving flags in the stands, the broadcasts reportedly used clips of players, officials or long shots of the football stadium.
Earlier this year, China began shutting down entire cities in a bid to prevent the domestic spread of COVID-19, with daily new cases hitting up to 31,656 on Thursday.
Social media users were also reportedly angered by a deadly fire that killed 10 people inside a partially locked down building in Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi on Thursday night. Netizens blamed the lockdowns for not allowing residents to escape in time.
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Earlier this month, a father in China’s Gansu province similarly blamed the country’s policy for the death of his 3-year-old son, while a woman in Chongqing claimed her residential complex’s protocols caused her miscarriage.
Mounting anger over the government’s strict policy also resulted in protests in Shanghai, Beijing and other parts of China last week in a rare display of public dissent.
In addition to chanting for the “end of lockdown,” some protesters have also called for the removal of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.