WHO wades into UK fake 5G Covid-19 links row as regulator probes leading broadcaster

World Health Organization publishes myth-buster guide to Covid-19 as Ofcom investigates remarks made on leading ITV programme casting doubt on media proof of fake news

New developments in the controversy over discredited links between 5G networks and the coronavirus have seen the World Health Organization publish a myth-buster guide and a leading daytime TV host investigated by the UK’s broadcast and telecoms regulator for questioning mainstream media for refuting the false theories.

The background to both moves – and one of the most bizarre consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak – has been a spate of attacks on mobile phone masts throughout the UK after reports appeared on social media suggesting links between 5G networks and the coronavirus.

For the past two weeks, a number of UK celebrities, including a well-known talent show judge, a former boxing world champion and a former sports commentator who is more famous for professing a global conspiracy involving “lizard people”, have amplified unfounded social media rumours that the ongoing deployment of 5G networks in the UK has contributed to the spread of coronavirus.

Right after the celebrities tried to organise petitions to investigate the issues, arson attacks on mobile phone masts occurred in Northern Ireland, Birmingham and Merseyside. There were also reports of key workers suffering abuse and threats from people about damaging infrastructure amidst the claims about 5G.

On 14 April, Vodafone UK chief executive officer Nick Jeffery reported an arson attack on mobile masts providing connectivity to the Nightingale hospital in Birmingham, a dedicated facility treating victims of the Coronavirus. In condemning the attacks as the selfish actions of a few deluded conspiracy theorists, Jeffery said: “It’s even more upsetting that even the small solace of a phone or video call may now be denied [to Coronavirus victims]. Burning down masts means damaging important national infrastructure. In practice, this means families not being able to say a final goodbye to their loved ones; hard-working doctors, nurses, and police officers not being able to phone their kids, partners or parents for a comforting chat. Imagine not being able to see or hear them one last time. All because you’ve swallowed a dangerous lie. There is absolutely no link between 5G and coronavirus. There is no science based evidence 5G is harmful to human health."

Fuel was added to the fire by long-time daytime TV host Eamonn Holmes, who on 13 April made an angry retort to a fellow presenter on ITV’s This Morning show who was debunking the myths, accusing UK media of having a “state narrative” on the issue. While agreeing with his colleague, Holmes said: “What I don’t accept is that mainstream media immediately slapping [the fake reports] down as not true when they don’t know it’s not true.

“No one should attack or damage or do anything like that, but it’s very easy to say ‘it’s not true’ because it suits the state narrative. That’s all I would say as someone with an enquiring mind.”

After a furore encompassing the media, scientific and medial communities, UK broadcast and telecoms regulator Ofcom has confirmed that it was assessing Holmes’ comments “as a priority”. The remarks came just as Ofcom is deep into a pushback against the false rumours. On 9 April, the regulator published research showing that almost half of UK online adults had come across false or misleading information about the coronavirus in the previous week.

This came days after Ofcom officially sanctioned a UK community radio station after it broadcast a discussion that contained potentially harmful views on Covid-19. The station had broadcast claims that the coronavirus outbreak was linked to the roll-out of 5G technology, and also cast doubt on reported symptoms of the virus.

Holmes has now attempted to walk back on his statement and on the 14 April edition of This Morning said that while there was no scientific evidence to substantiate any of the fake 5G theories, he did not apologise for his remarks and said he had been misinterpreted.

Buttressing the case again the fake news, the World Health Organization has now added 5G to its Covid-19 Myths Buster page. The reference makes plain that viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks and the coronavirus was spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks. It said Covid-19 was spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks.

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