With 5G mobile and broadband now live in Australia – albeit it still in limited areas – we’ve entered a new age of ultra-fast, seamless, and reliable network coverage and speed. But while many of us are keen to try out 5G while stuck at home and self-isolating, some conspiracy theorists claim that 5G technology is actually causing the COVID-19 pandemic.
You may have seen copy-and-paste claims floating around Facebook or Twitter that suggest newly-built 5G towers are the real reason for the rapid worldwide spread of coronavirus. Some posts claim that the virus is actually a hoax designed to cover up the effects of 5G radiation; others insist the virus is real, but exposure to ‘immune-system-killing’ 5G has made us all more susceptible to it. Whichever version you’ve come across, the answer is the same: no, COVID-19 is not caused by, spread by, or made more effective by 5G.
5G conspiracy theories
Although most of us aren’t buying into crackpot coronavirus claims, the spread of misinformation about 5G has already begun to cause real-world consequences. In the UK, major mobile network O2 has reported vandalism to its cell towers and infrastructure, as well as harassment aimed towards its workers thanks to COVID-19 conspiracies. The UK government has also been forced to publicly debunk the link between mobile networks and 5G, with NHS national medical director Stephen Powis calling the theories ‘utter rubbish’.
Here in Australia, similar rumours persist, although we’ve yet to see the same offline results such as property damage or threats to telco employees. The three providers that have begun their respective 5G rollouts – Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone – have all done extensive testing on their networks, including measuring electromagnetic energy (EME) and complying with safety standards from independent health and scientific organisations.
Nationally, the Australian EME standards are set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), with telcos also receiving guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Commission for Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). So far, testing continues to indicate that 5G EME levels are similar to those emitted by 3G, 4G, and WiFi, and often up to a thousand times lower than established safety limits – when indoors, that’s lower than a two-way radio or microwave.
Why are people scared of 5G?
5G is an upgrade to existing 4G coverage, offering faster speeds and lower latency. While 5G, 4G and 3G all use radio frequencies below the 6 Gigahertz (GHz) range, 5G is designed to also operate at higher frequencies of between 30GHz to 300GHz. The difference in frequencies means 5G will support more users and send data quicker, but requires a more precise signal between a tower and a device. The need to build and upgrade more infrastructure – and eventually roll out more cells across residential and commercial areas – may be fuelling the 5G panic, but keep in mind that there’s no evidence that 5G networks will have any impact on our health, good or bad.
Network towers do emit radiation, in the form of radiofrequency waves (RF). However, this radiation is classed as ‘non-ionizing’, i.e. it’s not strong enough to cause damage to human tissue or DNA. Although huge levels of RF can be dangerous – causing burns, and being linked to cancer – the waves emitted by mobile towers and devices aren’t anywhere near this powerful.
To quote ARPANSA, “there are no established short term or long term health effects to people or the environment from radio waves at the power levels used for 5G.” There’s nothing indicating that a 5G rollout will cause harm to Australians, and definitely nothing to link 5G with the symptoms or spread of COVID-19.
So, 5G isn’t spreading coronavirus?
Viruses can’t ‘ride’ radio waves, or be transmitted through electromagnetic energy. Speaking to Metro, British GP Dr. Gero Baiarda debunked this specific aspect of COVID-19 conspiracies, stating that the virus enters the human body through the mucous membranes predominantly found in our eyes, noses, and mouths.
“Therefore, for the 5G theory to be true, the virus would have to somehow hitch a ride on these very specific low frequency wavelengths, which is impossible, before making their way like guided missiles into your eyes, nose or mouth,” said Dr. Baiarda.
The idea that coronavirus is actually a smokescreen for the effect of 5G radiation on the population is also unrealistic. The symptoms of COVID-19 and acute radiation exposure are usually distinct: while coronavirus tends to cause fever, respiratory issues, as well as a dry cough, radiation poisoning is associated with nausea, vomiting, headaches, skin redness and burns, with fever the only major symptom that both conditions generally share.
If conspiracy theorists point out a rise in COVID-19 cases in areas with live 5G towers, that doesn’t mean the virus is linked to the mobile network. In Australia, telcos are concentrating on rolling out 5G in capital cities and CBDs – in other words, places where more people can use it, and where demand is strong. City centres also happen to be areas that are densely populated, a huge factor in COVID-19 transmission. The more people who may be exposed to a virus, the quicker that virus will spread, regardless of how many mobile towers or base stations are nearby.
It’s also true that although Wuhan – the city where the COVID-19 outbreak originated – was one of the first ‘pilot cities’ of 5G in China, the same can be said for Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Wuhan does have a live 5G network, as do many of the major cities worldwide impacted by coronavirus – but again, this is correlation, not causation. The presence of COVID-19 cases in areas without 5G coverage, including the prevalent spread on cruise ships, shows that the virus doesn’t need a next-generation mobile tower nearby in order to be transmitted.
To sum it up, all major Australian health and telecommunication authorities consider 5G technology to be safe, even without the threat of COVID-19.
“We are well positioned to be confident in the health and safety of 5G mobile networks, and we must all consider and follow the advice of the government and health experts to build community confidence,” said Chris Althaus, CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association.
“Other sources around the world have labelled the idea of a link to COVID as complete rubbish and biologically impossible.”
More information on COVID-19 in Australia:
More information on EME and 5G safety:
- World Health Organisation: 5G Networks and Health
- Science Media Exchange: How safe is 5G
More information on Australian 5G plans and coverage: