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The theorists base their arguments on the fact that Wuhan, the Chinese city from where the Coronavirus emanated, was the first city in China to deploy a 5G network./COURTESY

Coronavirus

Is 5G technology behind COVID-19 outbreak?

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 13 – As the local telecommunications industry gears up to roll out 5G networks in the country, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) – the ICT sector regulator – has noted a sharp spike in public concerns regarding the safety of this new technology.

These concerns peaked recently following intense global social media activity on this subject. Unfortunately, some conspiracy theorists have latched onto the ensuing debate to fuel public fear and antipathy against this nascent technology by associating it with the COVID-19 outbreak.

The theorists base their arguments on the fact that Wuhan, the Chinese city from where the Coronavirus emanated, was the first city in China to deploy a 5G network. What the doomsayers, however, miss to point out is that Wuhan was one of the 16 Chinese cities to debut 5G.

Interestingly, none of the other cities have reported abnormally high incidences of the virus. Most notably, although China launched the world’s largest 5G network in October 2019, a number of firms in South Korea, UK, Germany and the United States launched commercial 5G services, some on a trial basis, in late 2018.  Clearly the association of this technology with Covid-19 is spurious and without merit.

More worrying is the theorists’ claim that 5G damages the immune system, leaving affected individuals highly exposed to the disease. As I pen this article, Kenya has 197 confirmed Coronavirus cases, yet the country has not deployed a 5G network.

Other social media accounts allege that 5G mobile networks are being deployed in high frequency bands of up to 60 GHz, thus causing ionization of the oxygen molecules in the air. This process allegedly splits the molecules into two atoms, which then deprive the human body of oxygen, causing instant death.

These accounts are unfounded, as no country has deployed 5G networks in the 60 GHz band. Indeed most 5G networks have been deployed in the 2.6 and 3.5 GHz frequency bands.  Kenya is planning to launch 5G trials in these bands too.

We have noted, with utter disbelief, other social media accounts attributing Covid-19 to viruses excreted from dying human cells whose alleged cause of death is 5G radiation.  Again these accounts are untrue and misplaced, as the epidemic has hit many countries, including Kenya, that are yet to deploy 5G networks.

Expectedly, the afore-cited conspiracy theories have triggered increased local consumer and public interest and anxiety on the safety of 5G, a technology that is billed to positively transform all aspects of life, including health care, agriculture, manufacturing and other sectors of the economy. I therefore urge consumers and members of the public to treat these allegations with the disdain they deserve.

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The Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA) is vested with the responsibility of exercising oversight on non-ionizing radiation in the country under the revised legislation issued last year. KNRA is preparing to enact regulations outlining the allowable non-iodizing radiation level thresholds in Kenya. Radiation from 5G and other preceding technologies is non-iodizing.

Nonetheless, Kenyans should find comfort in the fact that after seven years of research, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) released 2020 guidelines on limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields, including 5G.  

According to ICNIRP, the main effect that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields have on the human body is increased temperature of exposed tissue. The human body effortlessly handles small increases to body temperature, including those caused by exercising. As long as the increase in temperature of the exposed tissues is within the set thresholds, there are no risks to human health.

5G radiation overall levels remain low and well below international safety guidelines. Further, there is no evidence that 5G can damage the immune system, and thus have a deleterious effect on human health.

Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) says no research has linked exposure to wireless technology with negative health effects.  WHO regularly updates information on this subject and is set to release additional research findings in 2022.

Conspiracy theories on wireless technology are not new.  Virtually all previous mobile communications technologies from 1 to 4G have had their fair share of detractors and critics.  Experience has, without exception, served to prove the doomsayers wrong.

5G is the fifth generation of wireless communications technologies supporting cellular data networks. Large-scale adoption began in 2019 and today virtually every telecommunication service provider in the developed world is upgrading its infrastructure to offer 5G services.

The technology, which will deliver super-fast, low latency and high capacity Internet, is touted as a game changer. 5G networks will support other innovative applications, including Artificial Intelligence, Smart cities, driverless cars, machine-to-machine learning, Internet of Everything, and thus pave way for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and increased economic productivity. As a country, we should not allow detractors to have their way and scare us from adopting this transformative technology.

Lastly, the Government has been regularly providing information on COVID-19, and measures to mitigate the epidemic. I urge Kenyans to adhere to these and WHO measures and disregard any other misleading information.

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Notes about the Author:

Mercy Wanjau is the Acting Director-General of the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA). CA is the regulatory agency for postal, information and communications technology in Kenya with responsibilities in telecommunications, postal/courier, broadcasting, radio-communications, cyber security, and e-commerce services.

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