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5G, COVID-19 and conspiracy theories


The coming of COVID-19 has created spurious and fantastic narratives, types of which are usually spun around tumultuous events. Specifically, conspiracy theorists are curiously contending that rolling out the fifth generation (5G) network by the Chinese and other stakeholders is the cause of the pandemic that has gripped the world since December 2019. Social media is abuzz with a potpourri of prognostications ranging from the sublime to the outright ridiculous. The time has come for the science community as represented by the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) to make a definitive statement on the connection, if any, between 5G and COVID-19, especially as it concerns Nigeria. 
The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami has made a definite statement that no organisation has been licensed to install 5G cables in Nigeria. According to him, a “three-month study trial commenced on the 25th of November 2019 in order to critically review and study the health and security implications of deploying 5G in Nigeria.” Some religious pastors have, however, linked COVID-19 with end-time prophecies, saying that 5G was “part of the new world order where some figures of authority in the world were trying to build a religion, economy, and government for the entire universe.” One of them had even linked microchips with the forthcoming apocalypse. Different videos apparently illustrating the danger of 5G have been in circulation. Counter narratives, however, have also been created to make nonsense of conspiracy theories. 5G is the latest or fifth generation of wireless communication. It is reported to be ten times faster than 4G. Countries across the world are signing on to this new technology because it is the signpost of the future. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is based on this new technology. 
The question is: What is 5G? Are there components of this technology that are potentially injurious to man? Does it pose a security threat to nations and individual or personal security? Are the conspiracy theories part of superpower rivalry? What is the nexus between the pandemic and the new technology? If 5G is indeed dangerous to man’s stay, if it has the capacity to destroy lives as COVID-19 is currently doing, why would it still be installed anywhere in the world? 

The prevailing information is that the coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19), a highly transmittable viral infection emerged in Wuhan China towards the end of 2019. Although it caught world attention in December, there are insinuations that the Chinese government tried to suppress it when it first broke out perhaps before December. Bats are suspected to be the possible primary reservoir just as it was with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV2). How it was transferred to man has not been firmly established. However, that it attacks vital organs and manifests as pneumonia, easily killing persons with underlying health issues such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension has been confirmed.      
5G network, on the other hand, is a new kind of network designed to ‘‘connect virtually everyone and everything together.’’ Some critics have argued that 5G has the dangerous capacity to generate ‘‘radiofrequency radiation that can damage DNA and lead to cancer.’’ Yet others argue that because of its powerful and higher energy radiation, it can lead to premature aging, disrupt cell metabolism and potentially lead to diseases through extreme stress on the human genome. 5G is successor to 4G which debuted in 2009 with a peak speed of about 10Mbps. 5G which had been promoted for many years now, has the capacity to deliver peak speeds between 10 and 20Gbps. Major carriers – Sprint, Verizon and AT&T- have started to deploy their networks. However, the technology is not going to be widely available till another year or so. What is more, research on 6G has reportedly begun in China while the world is debating environmental impact assessment (EIA) on 5G.
Therefore, if the facts stated above serve as a guide, having been established in the scientific community, there is no link between COVID-19 and 5G network. Often new technologies come with fears and worry. World Health Organisation (WHO) states on its website that ‘‘after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technology.’’ It goes on to say that “health-related conclusions are drawn from studies performed across the entire radio spectrum” and that few studies “have been carried out at frequencies to be used by 5G.”      
This is not a time that silence is golden. Therefore, the Federal Government needs to take a firm stand based on information and knowledge provided by the scientific community and debunk the contents of fake news currently in circulation. Service providers also need to clarify issues that appear confusing, especially against the background of fake news trending on social media. Working in consonance with reputable national and international bodies, the government needs to address the issues once and for all. If there are any health risks, it is the duty of government to put safety measures in place to reduce the level of hazard.
Finally, let us promote hope instead of fear. It is a time to embrace new technologies that will improve our quality of life. Opinion leaders in any capacity should refrain from promoting false narratives whether from the pulpit, social media or from government house. If 5G network has come to stay, it should be established, unequivocally. If its benefits are enormous especially as it hopes to create millions of jobs for the country and improve the way we do business, let’s promote that paradigm. We call on those who should know to help shape the public discourse and perception with a view to putting paid to what British Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove has branded ‘‘dangerous nonsense.’’

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5GCOVID-19Isa Pantami
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