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Covid-19 and 5G: Conspiracists On Parade


The pandemic has been fertile ground for conspiracy mongers. They’re having a field day on the Web and especially in social media. One of their favorite “theories” is that 5g must be connected to the origin of the virus, its spread, weakening the immune system, and even “attaching itself” to the signals. Yes, this sounds ridiculous, but a surprising number of people appear to believe it. 

Early this year and with increasing frequency, the pandemic has brought out the usual conspiracy mongers. The 5G bugaboo seems to have originated with Belgian general practitioner Kris Van Kerckhoven who was interviewed by the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. The paper published an article with the headline “5G is life-threatening and no one knows it.” The “proof” was that Wuhan was one of the first cities in China to roll out 5G, so it should be suspect. The article has since been deleted from the paper’s Web site (and the paper has apologized) but it was too late: the virtual conspiracy community spread had begun.

The interview landed on Facebook pages Belgium and other countries and then to English-language versions of Facebook, YouTube channels, and then to celebrities who collectively have tens of millions of followers, and even to a petition on change.org with more than 110,000 signatures. By now, 5G was proposed as weakening the immune system, causing COVID-19-type symptoms, that Bill Gates was somehow involved, and more. Not to be left out, RT (formerly Russia Today) has been pumping out its own theories on a regular basis.

The result has been an increasing level of protests, first in the UK, the Netherlands, and now the U.S., Australia, and other countries. Towers have been burned or cut down, workers building or serving transmission equipment have been attacked, and recently razor blades and needles have been inserted behind anti-5G protest signs.

There are two general scenarios. The first is that as 5G uses millimeter wavelengths and requires huge numbers of small cells to achieve coverage they will be closer to people than larger base stations, so the risk of health effects will be present. This assumes, of course, that there is a risk, for which there is no definitive answer, and that these high frequencies are more potentially dangerous than lower ones, when in fact the opposite is more likely.

At 60 GHz, for example, non-ionizing radiation passes only 1/64 inch into the skin. In addition, even though small cells will indeed be closer to people, their strength is 10,000 times less than at traditional cellular frequencies. The second scenario suggests that the virus attaches itself to electromagnetic energy that it is transmitted to humans. This is biologically impossible because a virus consists of proteins and nucleic acids that do not bind with electromagnetic energy. And as the World Health Organization has noted, 5G deployment is sparse globally and many countries, including those with high confirmed cases and fatality rates, do not have 5G.

Today, when science is increasingly disregarded in favor or pet theories or just plain nonsense, it’s unfortunate that 5G has been dragged into the discussion, but it’s not the time the industry has been targeted and it won’t be the last.