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Why the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories don’t make sense

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Radio waves can only spread computer viruses, not human ones

Online conspiracy theories have been trying to link the novel coronavirus pandemic to the rollout of 5G technology recently. Despite there being no scientific links, multiple 5G towers have been set on fire in the UK. Theories shared on Facebook, Nextdoor, and Instagram are being widely spread, leading the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to very clearly state: “5G technology does NOT cause coronavirus.”

None of the conspiracy theories that try to link 5G and the coronavirus even make sense. The virus is spreading in countries without access to 5G, the frequencies from 5G can’t harm your body, and COVID-19 is caused by a contagious virus that is in no way related to electromagnetic waves. Even the general correlation between 5G and COVID-19 doesn’t stand up to scrutiny: they’re both global phenomena happening at roughly the same time, but as soon as you look at specific countries, the correlation falls apart.

Videos have been shared on Facebook of 5G towers burning.

Professor Stephen Powis, a medical director for NHS England in the UK, called the links between 5G and the coronavirus “outrageous” and “absolute and utter rubbish.” The UK government has also branded the claims “dangerous nonsense” and labeled conspiracy theories “crackpot.”

Some of these theories suggest that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted through 5G or that 5G suppresses the immune system. Both are untrue. To understand why 5G and the virus aren’t linked, you have to understand why 5G radio waves aren’t powerful enough to damage the cells in your body alone or transmit a virus. Much like 4G or 3G before it, the radio waves used in 5G are low frequency and non-ionizing radiation. These are on the opposite end of the electromagnetic spectrum to ionizing radiation sources like X-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet rays.

These 5G radio waves simply aren’t strong enough to heat your body and weaken your immune system. “The idea that 5G lowers your immune system doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” explains Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, in a recent interview with the BBC.

Likewise, radio waves and viruses aren’t transmitted in the same way. The novel coronavirus spreads from one person to another, typically through tiny droplets of saliva produced when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or breathes. The only types of viruses you can transmit via radio waves are ones that affect computers, not humans.

Other facts that really bring this 5G conspiracy theory crashing back to the realms of reality is that the pandemic has hit counties like Iran, India, and Japan where 5G isn’t even in use yet. Iran has only just reportedly finalized its regulations on 5G, with plans to roll out the technology later this year. Iran currently has more than 66,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Japan only just started rolling out 5G services in the past week, and India’s 5G launch may even be delayed because of the pandemic. At the same time, South Korea has had 5G towers in place for a year now, and it only began seeing COVID-19 cases after the Wuhan outbreak.

The broader 5G fears have largely been addressed by regulators, scientists, and independent groups. While some implementations of 5G use millimeter-wave (mmWave) band transmissions, a higher frequency of radio waves than 4G or 3G, regulators in the UK have recorded 5G electromagnetic radiation levels well below international guidelines. The International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) also found no evidence suggesting 5G poses a risk to human health.

The ICNIRP updated its guidelines last month, following a seven-year study. “5G technologies will not be able to cause harm when these new guidelines are adhered to,” said ICNIRP chair Eric van Rongen.

5G speeds in the UK.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

A lot of these coronavirus 5G conspiracy theories have originated from active disinformation campaigns. A New York Times report from last year warned that Russian campaigns were actively exploiting 5G health fears. RT America, a Russian government-funded TV network, aired a report more than a year ago in which an RT reporter claimed 5G “might kill you.”

A European Union task force has also been tracking many of the disinformation campaigns, warning that “some state and state-backed actors seek to exploit the public health crisis to advance geopolitical interests.”

Many of the recent fringe theories appear to have originated from a Belgian newspaper that published a scientifically baseless claim that “5G is life-threatening” and tried to link the origins of the pandemic to the rollout of 5G technology in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the novel coronavirus originated. The general practitioner quoted in the article admitted, “I have not done a fact check,” but that didn’t stop conspiracy theorists from immediately spreading it far and wide on English-speaking Facebook pages.

After the spate of cell tower attacks, UK mobile operators are calling on members of the public not to spread the false claims. “Please help us to make this stop,” the top four UK mobile operators pleaded in a joint statement earlier this week. “If you witness abuse of our key workers please report it. If you see misinformation, please call it out.”