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COVID-19 conspiracy theories and arson attacksMain article: COVID-19 misinformation § 5G mobile-phone networksThe World Health Organization published a mythbuster infographic to combat the conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and 5G.
As the introduction of 5G technology coincided with the time of COVID-19 pandemic, several conspiracy theories circulating online posited a link between COVID-19 and 5G. This has led to dozens of arson attacks being made on telecom masts in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, etc.), Ireland (Cork, etc.), Cyprus, the United Kingdom (Dagenham, Huddersfield, Birmingham, Belfast and Liverpool), Belgium (Pelt), Italy (Maddaloni), Croatia (Bibinje) and Sweden. It led to at least 61 suspected arson attacks against telephone masts in the United Kingdom alone and over twenty in The Netherlands.
In the early months of the pandemic, anti-lockdown protesters at protests over responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia were seen with anti-5G signs, an early sign of what became a wider campaign by conspiracy theorists to link the pandemic with 5G technology. There are two versions of the 5G-COVID-19 conspiracy theory:
- The first version claims that radiation weakens the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).
- The second version claims that 5G causes COVID-19. There are different variations on this. Some claim that the pandemic is coverup of illness caused by 5G radiation or that COVID-19 originated in Wuhan because that city was "the guinea-pig city for 5G"
There is a long history of fear and anxiety surrounding wireless signals that predates 5G technology. The fears about 5G are similar to those that have persisted throughout the 1990s and 2000s. They center on fringe claims that non-ionizing radiation poses dangers to human health. Unlike ionizing radiation, non-ionizing radiation cannot remove electrons from atoms. The CDC says "Exposure to intense, direct amounts of non-ionizing radiation may result in damage to tissue due to heat. This is not common and mainly of concern in the workplace for those who work on large sources of non-ionizing radiation devices and instruments." Some advocates of fringe health claim the regulatory standards are too low and influenced by lobbying groups.
An anti-5G sticker in Luxembourg.
Many popular books of dubious merit have been published on the subject including one by Joseph Mercolaalleging that wireless technologies caused numerous conditions from ADHD to heart diseases and brain cancer. Mercola has drawn sharp criticism for his anti-vaccinationism during the COVID-19 pandemic and was warned by the FDA to stop selling fake COVID-19 cures through his online alternative medicine business.
According to the New York Times, one origin of the 5G health controversy was an erroneous unpublished study that physicist Bill P. Curry did for the Broward County School Board in 2000 which indicated that the absorption of external microwaves by brain tissue increased with frequency. According to experts this was wrong, the millimeter waves used in 5G are safer than lower frequency microwaves because they cannot penetrate the skin and reach internal organs. Curry had confused in vitro and in vivo research. However Curry's study was widely distributed on the internet. Writing in The New York Times in 2019, William Broad reported that RT America began airing programming linking 5G to harmful health effects which "lack scientific support", such as "brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors, and Alzheimer's disease". Broad asserted that the claims had increased. RT America had run seven programs on this theme by mid-April 2019 but only one in the whole of 2018. The network's coverage had spread to hundreds of blogs and websites.
In April 2019, the city of Brussels in Belgium blocked a 5G trial because of radiation rules. In Geneva, Switzerland, a planned upgrade to 5G was stopped for the same reason. The Swiss Telecommunications Association (ASUT) has said that studies have been unable to show that 5G frequencies have any health impact.
According to CNET, "Members of Parliament in the Netherlands are also calling on the government to take a closer look at 5G. Several leaders in the United States Congress have written to the Federal Communications Commission expressing concern about potential health risks. In Mill Valley, California, the city council blocked the deployment of new 5G wireless cells." Similar concerns were raised in Vermont and New Hampshire. The US FDA is quoted saying that it "continues to believe that the current safety limits for cellphone radiofrequency energy exposure remain acceptable for protecting the public health." After campaigning by activist groups, a series of small localities in the UK, including Totnes, Brighton and Hove, Glastonbury, and Frome, passed resolutions against the implementation of further 5G infrastructure, though these resolutions have no impact on rollout plans.
Low-level EMF does have some effects on other organisms. Vian et al., 2006 finds an effect of microwave on gene expression in plants.A meta-study of 95 in vitro and in vivo studies showed that an average of 80% of the in vivo research showed effects of such radiation, as did 58% of the in vitro research, but that the results were inconclusive as to whether any of these effects pose a health risk.