The fifth generation telecommunications technology (5G) is believed, by some, to be the root cause of the coronavirus pandemic.

Out of all the coronavirus conspiracy theories circulating recently, one claims that 5G networks are the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s difficult for the majority of people to comprehend where this idea came from, I’ve got to be honest, to the untrained eye the statistics may align.

Coronavirus has now infected 2.7 million people worldwide, 234,000 of which have died. Scientists knew early on that the sudden outbreak was caused by a virus. COVID-19 was novel, yes, but had similarities with previous coronaviruses which caused SARS and MERS.

It didn’t take long for a list of conspiracy theories to appear, the majority accusing global leaders of setting up a brutal method of population control. The emergence of 5G in late 2019 had an unfortunate coincidence with the first outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China, which led people to believe that this was the initial cause of the pandemic.

Despite scientists disproving this theory outright, and branding it “impossible”, people are spreading dangerous misinformation through social media. This is leading to crowds of people coming together and ignoring social distancing measures to burn down 5G masts.

Those who believe 5G causes coronavirus think that it is actually the radiation from 5G networks which cause COVID-19 symptoms, not a virus.

The virus doesn’t exist, apparently (disclaimer: it does).

Firstly, symptoms of radiation poisoning are nothing like a COVID-19 infection. Secondly, the level of radiation which these telecommunication masts give out is only a fraction of that which would cause minor sleep disturbances. Thirdly, Iran is a country with almost 90,000 cases of coronavirus and not a single 5G antenna.

So if it’s not the 5G radiation itself which is killing all these people, 5G must be lowering the immune system so that people are more prone to COVID-19 infections, right?

Wrong. It’s just not possible. High levels of radiation may have an effect on core body temperature, which can indeed cause temporary effects to the immune system, however, the power of 5G is nowhere near this. Studies have investigated the effect of many telecommunications sources, like 5G, and found no effect on antigens, antibodies or oxidative stress which are all key components of the immune system.

Before I go on, it is important I explain the difference between correlation and causation, and why misunderstanding these terms can cause conspiracies like these. Correlation is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a “connection between two things in which one thing changes as the other does”. These can be completely unrelated, for example,  the number of shark attacks increases in the summer, as do ice-cream sales. Causation is “the action of causing something”, for example, increasing the temperature of the oven bakes the cake.

The main reason why people think that 5G causes coronavirus is because the numbers of people using 5G and the numbers of people infected with COVID-19 have both increased in the last few months. They mistake this as a causal relationship, rather than a correlation. In fact, the increase in coronavirus cases also overlaps with an increase in paddling pool sales, yet nobody is claiming these are causing the pandemic. Strict social distancing measures in response to the virus have forced people to connect using telephones and internet calls, meaning more people are using 5G and hence the surge.

Looking at maps, people are also seeing a link between countries with high 5G use and high coronavirus cases. The simple explanation for this is population density. A country with a large population will have more 5G towers to cope with a higher telecommunications demand. They will also have a larger number of COVID-19 cases as people are in closer proximity to each other and spread infection.

While there are countless examples of why 5G cannot be the cause of coronavirus, there will always be someone to argue with these and wave a new £20 note in your face claiming it displays an image of a 5G mast (it’s actually a lighthouse in Margate). The lengths that people go to to spread misinformation is upsetting to the scientific community and undermines the work of medical staff who risk their lives every day. Please don’t just believe everything you read on the internet – check your sources and stay at home!

Footnote: While the conspiracy theory behind the 5G conspiracy has been proved to be wrong by scientific evidence, this piece reflects the stances of the author, Malgorzata Urbacz.

Featured image: 5G Tower by Fabian Horst, via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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