A conspiracy theory that links 5G mobile telecommunications masts to the spread of the novel coronavirus has led some people to vandalise or torche 5G phone masts in the UK.
The BBC reports that at least three 5G towers were set alight within the last week, and police and fire services were called to extinguish the flames.
These actions have damage connectivity at a time when people are relying on it more than ever. Telecoms staff has been also abused in Birmingham in central England and Merseyside in northern England.
An attack at a tower in Birmingham owned by BT disrupted 2G, 3G and 4G services, the company said.
NHS England’s national medical director, Stephen Powis, said the 5G conspiracy idea was fake news with no scientific backing that risked damaging the emergency response to the outbreak.
“The 5G story is complete and utter rubbish, it’s nonsense, it’s the worst kind of fake news,” Powis said. “The reality is that the mobile phone networks are absolutely critical to all of us.”
“Those are also the phone networks that are used by our emergency services and our health workers and I’m absolutely outraged, absolutely disgusted that people would be taking action against the very infrastructure that we need to respond to this health emergency,” Powis said.
Full Fact, an independent fact checking charity in the UK, has explored the claims after a British tabloid newspaper highlighted them recently. 5G uses a higher frequency of radio waves than 4G or 3G, but regulators in the UK have recorded 5G electromagnetic radiation levels well below international guidelines.
"The GSMA calls on internet giants, content providers and social media platforms to accelerate their efforts to remove fake news linking 5G to the spread of COVID-19. We also urge governments around the world to take swift action against disinformation, vandalism and threats against mobile network field engineers," GSMA said in a statement.
“The telecoms industry is working around the clock to keep vital health, education and emergency services online, businesses running, and friends and families connected,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA, the global communications industry body. “It is deplorable that critical communications infrastructure is being attacked based on outright mistruths. We urge everyone to trust health authorities and rest assured communications technology is safe. There is no link between 5G and COVID-19.”
When asked by a reporter about the so called “theory” that 5G telecommunications masts could play a role in the spread of the disease, British Cabinet Officer Minister Michael Gove said: “That is just nonsense, dangerous nonsense as well.”
Vodafone, the world’s second largest mobile operator, said the attacks were now a matter of national security.
“It beggars belief that some people should want to harm the very networks that are providing essential connectivity to the emergency services, the NHS, and rest of the country during this difficult lockdown period,” UK boss Nick Jeffery said.