China's Volleyball Association has apologised after several of its national team players wore N95 masks during a match.
Players on the country's women's team wore masks during the first set of their Asia Cup match against Iran in the Philippines, which they lost, before taking them off for the second set and going on to win.
The incident caused a stir on social media with a rare backlash against Chinese government policy among its citizens, and accusations that the players’ health and safety was compromised by wearing masks while playing sport.
China has some of the strictest Covid policies in the world with mask rules, sporadic lockdowns and tight border controls deployed to counter the spread of the virus.
Commenters on social media platform Weibo questioned China's ’Covid Zero’ strategy and suggested action may have gone too far, with the hashtag tied to the controversy generating more than 50 million reads.
China's Volleyball Association later explained that it had learned of Covid infections among other teams at the event and said there were some symptoms among the Chinese players.
A statement read: “After realising that playing with a mask is not good for the health of the players, the team reminded us in time [so] that our players took off the masks and finished the next game.”