The latest generation of fast broadband, commonly known as 5G, is in no way responsible for the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) – the UN’s agency for information and communication technologies – confirmed on Wednesday.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 5G phone masts have reportedly been damaged or destroyed in several European countries, including Ireland, Cyprus and Belgium. The problem has been particularly acute in the UK, where dozens of towers were targeted, and engineers abused on the job, according to media reports.
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5G can carry a huge amount of data much faster than previous technology, and reliably connect an extremely large number of devices, says the ITU, allowing future users to access a wide variety of services, including industrial and professional applications.
During the current pandemic, communications technology is playing an essential role in ensuring that health services, many of which are facing unprecedented demand due to the pandemic, are able to respond function efficiently: this was underlined when a phone mast supplying voice and data traffic to a hospital built in response to the pandemic, in the major British city of Birmingham, was reportedly set alight in April.
A spokesperson for ITU, Monika Gehner, told UN News on Wednesday that the theory of a link between 5G and COVID-19 is “a hoax that has no technical basis.”
Fighting false rumours a waste of resources
“The coronavirus is not being spread by radio waves”, she added. “It’s a real shame, during this time when there are real concerns about the health and well-being of the general public, and the economic toll that the fight against this pandemic is taking, that any time or energy has to be put into fighting this and other false rumours.”
The scale of the problem prompted the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN agency which is leading the response to the pandemic, to add the 5G conspiracy to its COVID-19 myth busters article, which notes that “viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks. COVID-19 is spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks.”
In a statement published in February, the WHO noted that, “to date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies”, and, “provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated”.
The ITU COVID-19 response
- ITU, WHO and UNICEF are working with telecommunication companies to text people directly on their mobile phones with vital health messaging to help protect them from COVID-19, reaching billions of people without internet access,
- The Global Education Coalition, an ITU/ UNESCO initiative, is ensuring that #LearningNeverStops for the more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet affected by school and university closures.
- The Global Network Resiliency Platform helps policy-makers, regulators and industry players ensure that networks are kept resilient and telecom services are available to as many people as possible,
- A full description of ways the ITU is addressing the COVID-19 outbreak can be found on the ITU website here.