Virus of Covid-19 conspiracy theories spreads to Ireland

People urged to ignore misinformation linking coronavirus to 5G technology

A woman walks her dog in front of graffiti saying ‘Stop 5G’ in London, UK. Concerns about the health impact of 5G have dogged its rollout from the start. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty

A woman walks her dog in front of graffiti saying ‘Stop 5G’ in London, UK. Concerns about the health impact of 5G have dogged its rollout from the start. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty

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The Communications Regulator has urged people to ignore misinformation linking coronavirus to 5G mobile networks following a large increase in the spread of the conspiracy theory in Ireland.

Two mobile phone masts were set on fire in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, on Sunday night. Gardaí suspect the fires were set deliberately by arsonists who believe the technology is linked to the virus.

Theories falsely claiming coronavirus is caused or spread by the ultrafast wireless technology, or that the Government has imposed the current lockdown to allow for the mass installation of 5G infrastructure, have been widely circulating on Irish social media and through WhatsApp messages in recent weeks.

The Donegal masts were actually 4G infrastructure which were being upgraded to provide extra coverage to Letterkenny General Hospital the surrounding areas.

Harassment

In the UK, authorities have reported 30 incidents of arson or vandalism of mobile technology and 80 incidents of harassment of mobile telecoms workers since the conspiracy theory began to gain traction.

Researchers in DCU have noticed a massive increase in the conspiracy theory and its variations being spread on Irish social networks.

Rollout of 5G technology by Eir and Vodafone began last year in Ireland. It allows for much faster and more reliable internet speeds than the current 4G technology.

Concerns about the health impact of 5G have plagued its rollout from the start despite assurances from the expert bodies such as the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection that the radiation it emits falls well below the amount which could pose a health risk.

The Communications Regulator (ComReg), which oversees internet and mobile infrastructure in Ireland, regularly receives queries from the public about the safety of 5G.

In recent weeks, some of these queries have alleged a link between 5G and coronavirus and Covid-19, its public affairs manager Tom Butler said.

The European Commission and the World Health Organisation have said there is “absolutely no truth of a link between Covid-19 and 5G. The Department of Health has advised that coronavirus is spread in sneeze or cough droplets and that there is no evidence of a link to 5G”, Mr Butler said.

“In fact, as the World Health Organisation and others have said, there are no anticipated consequences for public health from 5G as long as exposure levels remain within international guidelines.

“Compliance with these guidelines is a legal requirement in Ireland and exposure levels are monitored by ComReg,” he said.

Infrastructure

Mr Butler said ComReg is “urging everyone to ignore misinformation circulating on social media and to rely on reputable sources of information about 5G.”

He also condemned the incident in Donegal.

“Continuity of telecommunications networks services – fixed and mobile – are vital to society, especially at a time when we are advised to stay at home due to Covid-19.

“Vandalising mobile phone mast infrastructure will stop masts from carrying mobile call and data services at a time when people are relying on these critical services.

“Some people will be unable to contact emergency services and the gardaí. It will also make it harder for people to make contact with their families, friends and work colleagues.”

Vodafone Ireland said it has not increased its installation of 5G since the lockdown. Eir declined to comment.

ComReg said instead of installing new infrastructure, providers are mainly focusing on maintaining existing networks which are under unprecedented strain due the number of people working from home.