For Chinese football fans, the FIFA World Cup highlights the sadness associated with the COVID lockdown

BEIJING, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Photos of fans without masks enjoying the World Cup in crowded stadiums in Qatar, or in bars and on the streets abroad, highlighted for many frustrated Chinese the difference between their country’s tough COVID-19 restrictions and the world. which is moving forward. from masks and blocking.

Social media comments from people in the football-mad nation show a growing sense of isolation among the population, as well as weariness and anger over China’s chosen path without COVID lockdowns, frequent tests and closed borders.

For example, in the early hours of Thursday morning, a video of hundreds of Japanese fans going wild at Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing after Japan’s surprise 2-1 victory over Germany went viral on the Chinese Twitter-like social network Weibo.

Is this the same world as ours? asked one Weibo user from Sichuan Province in a comment that has been liked thousands of times.

“Did they test for COVID?” wrote another, ridiculing China’s testing requirements, which are now taking place daily in some places amid a resurgence of cases. Why are they not wearing masks?

Comments like these have flooded Chinese social media since the World Cup kicked off Sunday night, a sign that some Chinese feel they have found a safe place to speak out about the country’s COVID policy.

China’s “dynamic zero” stance, characteristic of President Xi Jinping, is politically sensitive, and direct online criticism is often blocked on the country’s heavily censored Internet and can even lead to arrest.

“Three years have passed, the cases of covid have not yet been clarified?” wrote a user from Guangdong.

COVID POLICY

An open letter to China’s National Health Commission questioning COVID policy asked if China was “on the same planet” as Qatar and it went viral on Tuesday before being removed.

“My main takeaway from watching the World Cup: no one wears a mask and no one is afraid of a pandemic!” wrote a Weibo user named Wang.

“How long will politics keep us locked up? Are we not of the same species as humans from the rest of the world? Are we now closing the whole country off from the world?”

Many of the calls for reopening have come from the urban middle class, but views on zero-COVID vary considerably, China watchers told Reuters.

“There are also people living in small towns who are still very afraid of the virus and are heavily influenced by China’s propaganda that portrays the situation in other countries as a failure,” said Fang Kecheng, a Chinese media researcher at China’s Hong University. Kong.

State broadcaster CCTV has spent millions of dollars on broadcast rights for the event, despite the fact that China has been ineligible to enter the contest since 2002, its only appearance.

Like other Chinese state media, he chose not to expand on the topic, nor on other politically sensitive topics that come up during the tournament, such as player protests before matches.

However, the disappointment has been exacerbated by the recent spate of infections across the country, which prompted new restrictions and lockdowns, even after authorities announced measures to ease restrictions earlier this month.

In Beijing’s nightlife districts, bars are closed, though some are secretly offering secret broadcasts, and fans are turning down their TV volumes and cheering to avoid alerting the authorities.

But most people were forced to watch from home.

“The World Cup in Qatar tells us that the rest of the world is back to normal,” wrote another Weibo user. “It’s not profitable for us to maintain this shutdown state.”

Reporting by Martin Quinn Pollard; Additional reports from the news departments of Beijing and Shanghai; Editing by Tony Munro and David Holmes

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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