CHINA'S state broadcaster cut away from maskless fans at the Qatar World Cup today amid Covid lockdown rage.
During the live broadcast of the Japan and Costa Rica game, CCTV Sports replaced close-up shots of maskless fans waving flags with images of players, officials or the football stadium.
CCTV Sports showed distant shots of the crowd where it was difficult to make out individual faces, and fewer crowd shots compared to the live broadcast of the same game on Douyin - China's TikTok.
Footage of the Tunisia and Australia clash on Saturday also emerged showing a stark difference between the state TV's version of the game and other broadcasts.
CCTV Sports kept the camera on players on the pitch and officials on the sidelines while the other broadcast zoomed in on fans reacting to the game.
And in a video shared of the 1-1 draw between the USA and Wales, the crowd appeared to be blurred in one version of the broadcast.
Tens of millions of people in major cities in China - including the capital Beijing - are currently under some form of lockdown as Covid cases rise across the country.
China is the last major economy still trying to stamp out the spread of Covid with snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantine rules and mass testing regimes.
But the contrast of the harsh restrictions with the raucous World Cup crowds has infuriated many living in China.
The images of maskless fans in Qatar have highlighted to many frustrated Chinese the difference between their country's Covid curbs and a world that has moved on from masks and lockdowns.
An open letter to China's National Health Commission questioned the country's Covid policies and asked if China was "on the same planet" as Qatar.
It went viral online last Tuesday before being deleted.
One Weibo user fumed: "My biggest takeaway from watching the World Cup: no one is wearing a mask, and no one is afraid of the pandemic!"
"How long will the policies keep us in lockdown? Are we not the same species with those from the rest of the world?
"Are we closing off the entire country from the world now?"
Another said: "The Qatar world cup tells us that the rest of the world has returned to normal.
"It's not sustainable for us to maintain this state of shutdown."
State broadcaster CCTV spent millions of dollars on the rights to broadcast the event - even though China has not qualified for the competition since 2002.
It comes as China deployed an army of riot cops to crush protests as fury erupted over the deaths of ten people in a tower block blaze.
Hundreds have taken to the streets across major cities in China after the tragedy was blamed on Xi Jinping's draconian zero-Covid lockdown.
From Beijing to Shanghai, the deaths have led to protests across China and cops have descended onto the streets to keep order as tensions boil over.
The deadly blaze at the apartment block in Urumqi on Thursday sparked outrage as the city has been under strict Covid restrictions since August.
Furious residents have blamed the deaths on the Covid lockdown as they said they were only allowed to leave home for short periods each day and the timing was strictly controlled by authorities.
Footage also showed workers trying to take down fences near the building, delaying firefighters and emergency services from getting to the scene and helping victims.
Thousands took to social media to question whether residents had been trapped in the building - and whether the fire exits had been blocked.
Urumqi authorities issued an unusual apology on Friday night and confirmed lockdown measures would be eased "in stages" after the blaze.
And on Sunday, Beijing appeared to acknowledge the tragedy as authorities reportedly issued a notice stating it is "strictly forbidden" to block fire exits in buildings under lockdown.
But the deaths have sparked protests across China.
People in Urumqi were seen confronting officials, breaking down a barrier and yelling "end the Covid lockdown".
Protesters in Shanghai stood on police cars and others chanted "we don’t want PCR tests" as a vigil was held in the city for the fire victims on Saturday night.
The demonstrations are the latest signs of building frustration with Chinas intense approach to controlling Covid.