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Coronavirus diary – Part 37

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5G phone near telecom mast – Image: The Guardian UK/Steve Parsons/PA

On November 6, the Chinese launched successfully its Sixth Generation Communication Satellite (6G) way ahead of the West and in a context of an unrelenting controversy over the fifth-generation Communication Internet Technology (5G) and its connection to the prowling COVID-19. This instalment addresses the controversy over 5G as causality for COVID-19. I relied on two main viewpoints in this respect, namely, Bruce Y. Lee, Senior Contributor to Forbes, and Tchéhouali Destiny, President of the Internet Society of Québec.

Their views were articulated at a time communication Towers were been attacked in ways reminiscent of the Luddites in the United Kingdom of yore. Lee’s article published on April 9, 2020, is titled: “5G Networks and COVID-19 Coronavirus: Here Are the Latest Conspiracy Theories” and Destiny’s “Conspiracy theories about 5G networks have skyrocketed since COVID-19” was published by The Conversation on June 2, 2020. Lee summarises two angles to the controversy of the connection of telecom to the COVID-19. The first is the deniability of the existence of COVID-19 and the entire media choreography and clinical razzmatazz on the matter is a hoax and 5G is the culprit. As Lee puts it, “The virus is supposedly like love at first sight.

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It doesn’t really exist. Instead, this theory claims that the radiation from 5G is what’s actually causing COVID-19 symptoms.” The second dimension is that 5G can weaken our immune system and render us susceptible to COVID-19, and “So the claim is that the advent of 5G is what has allowed this virus to spread as it has.” A bemused Lee exclaims, “Holy conspiracy theories, Batman. Does this then mean that all those patients, doctors, nurses, other health care professionals, scientists, public health officials, journalists, policy-makers, school officials, businesses, and countless others are in on the hoax, coordinating this massive scam? That would be amazing. Heck, just getting doctors and scientists to agree on something can be like trying to herd a bunch of cats with some pickles.” He summons further the map “evidence” as though playing the devil’s advocate, and notes that “…since more COVID-19 cases are appearing in locations where more 5G towers are present, the two must be linked.

After all, doesn’t correlation automatically mean causation?” Also, she provides illuminating scientific explanations. 5G towers indeed emit radiation, but radiation varies. Ionizing radiation such as X-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet (UV) light “definitely can cause DNA damage. That damage can mess up the functioning of your cells and potentially lead to cancer. Therefore, certainly try to minimize exposure to ionizing radiation as much as possible. Don’t get X-rays unless you really need them. Don’t go sit out in the sun too long without proper protection. And don’t try to become the Hulk by exposing yourself to gamma rays.”

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On the contrary, cell phone towers emit radiofrequency (RF) waves, a form of non-ionizing radiation which according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “is not strong enough to directly affect the structure of atoms or damage DNA…Radiofrequency energy decreases as it travels in atmosphere, which means that it gets weaker the farther it is from the transmitter. Powerful long-distance transmitters usually do not create high-level RF energy on the ground. If there is a ground level hazard from RF energy, there are safety requirements to prevent the public from dangerous exposure.” Lee’s verdict is: “Let’s be clear here. Your money is not sending you secret messages about 5G and the COVID-19 coronavirus. There is no scientific evidence that 5G towers are causing COVID-19 symptoms or that 5G radiation is making people more susceptible to SARS-CoV2 infections. COVID-19 has a clear cause, a new coronavirus. It is a biological virus and not an electronic one.”

Destiny lends credence to lee’s arguments. He leans on WHO’s advisory to the effect that 5G network does not spread viruses, and that the latter cannot be spread through radio waves. Also, underlines the advantages of the 5G network primed to cope with data explosion, in other words, “massive and simultaneous communications between machines.”

Besides, “5G will accelerate the automation of industries, the introduction of autonomous vehicles, the development of smart cities, telehealth and remote surgery. All this will be made possible by three main factors: increased connection speeds through improved use of high frequency bands, reduced latency, and the use of next generation infrastructure such as small directional antennas.

These antennae with signal relay devices can be integrated into street fixtures, buildings, transport and utilities to support targeted signal distribution.” He expresses awareness of the danger to human health when “exposed to electromagnetic fields generated by devices connected to the 5G network.” According to Destiny, “Some studies report symptoms observed in “electrosensitive” people such as stress, headaches, heart problems and impaired cognitive functions (memory, attention, co-ordination) in children. Nevertheless, there is no scientifically proven diagnosis and no causal link can be established today between these symptoms, which remain inexplicable, and exposure to electromagnetic fields.

There is a briefing by Miroslava Karaboytcheva, a member of the European Parliamentary Research Service in March 2020 on the effects of 5G wireless communication on human health against the backdrop of Europe’s quest to achieve a European gigabit society by 2025. It addresses the question of the negative impact of 5G on human health and the environment due to constant exposure to frequencies.  It points to the findings of the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER), which has suggested biological consequences from a 5G environment.

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Equally, Council of Europe Council of Europe Resolution 1815 (2011) points to the potential health effects of the very low frequency of electromagnetic fields surrounding power lines and electrical devices, and conclude that some non-ionising frequencies appear could have “harmful, non-thermal, biological effects on humans, other animals, and plants, even when exposed to levels that are below the official threshold values” put at 0 Hz to 300 GHz. The scientific community is seized on the effects of 5G and the process is masked by controversy. However, there are scientific studies on the potential health risks. For example, the WHO14/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2011 points to the carcinogenic effects of radiofrequency (EMF) on humans.

Nevertheless, Both Lee and Destiny end their thoughts on the didactic and advisory note. Lee’s verdict is: “Let’s be clear here. Your money is not sending you secret messages about 5G and the COVID-19 coronavirus. There is no scientific evidence that 5G towers are causing COVID-19 symptoms or that 5G radiation is making people more susceptible to SARS-CoV2 infections. COVID-19 has a clear cause, a new coronavirus. It is a biological virus and not an electronic one.” There is a caveat to it, that is, 5G is new and claims of all-round safety could be premature. On his part, Destiny warns against the technophiles’ fixation on “technological solutionism” and the “skepticism of technophobes” tilting towards “collective paranoia.” Logically, he recommends “a third way: reinventing society’s relationship with technology in a rational way” with a critical outlook on “the challenges, opportunities, vices and virtues of the widespread digitization of society”. Importantly, he advises the avoidance of a slide into “technological determinism and believe that we have no power over these technologies.”

Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.

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