FACT CHECK: Are 5G cell towers causing the spread of the COVID-19 virus?
FALSE. There is no evidence linking 5G cell towers to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
One of the most persistent conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is that 5G cell phone towers are somehow related to the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to reporting by Vox, the idea first emerged in January on a French conspiracy theory website and then in an article in a Belgian newspaper, which speculated whether the virus was related to 5G towers in Wuhan, before spreading quickly on English-language social media. (The original newspaper story has since been deleted, but Twitter users have shared screenshots and an image of the print issue.)
The theories appear to be motivating attacks on cell phone towers both in Canada and overseas. Three cell phone towers have been set on fire in Quebec, and police told news outlets that they were investigating whether the fires are linked to anti-5G theories (none of the cell towers used 5G technology). In the UK, there have been at least seventy-seven arson attacks on cell phone towers since March 30.
The term “5G” refers to the fifth generation of mobile broadband, which will eventually replace or augment the 4G network connection used by cell phones. Mobile networks in Canada, such as Bell Canada and Telus, planned to switch to 5G connections this year, but many of them have delayed their plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The claim that 5G is linked to COVID-19 is false
The first claim does not stand up to scrutiny. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks.” Instead, we know of two ways the COVID-19 virus spreads: from droplets released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks, and when someone comes into contact with an infected surface and then touches their mouth, eyes, or nose.
The second claim also lacks evidence. Because 5G radio waves are often emitted at a higher frequency than waves currently used by cell phones (though not always), there has been scientific debate over their potential health effects.
The WHO stated in February that “To date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.” Based on studies done across the radio spectrum, exposure to cell phone technology results in a “negligible temperature rise in the human body,” the organization stated. However, more studies on the specific frequencies used by 5G are needed.
High frequency waves like X-rays can damage cells, but 5G radio waves are at the low end of the frequency spectrum. Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, told the BBC that the energy levels from 5G radio waves are “tiny” and “nowhere near strong enough to affect the immune system.”
It’s also worth noting that the virus has spread in countries without 5G cell towers. As of March 29, carriers in forty countries reported that they had deployed 5G technology, but the virus had already spread to nearly every country in the world by that point, according to WHO data.
Overall, this theory is demonstrably false. 5G radio waves do not spread the COVID-19 virus, nor is there sufficient evidence to prove that they weaken the immune system.