Back to Africa Check

No, disease outbreaks – including coronavirus – not caused by 3G, 4G or 5G

A message shared on WhatsApp suggests a link between the introduction of wireless network technologies and outbreaks of diseases. 

It says that in 2003, when 3G was introduced to the world, there was an outbreak of Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. In 2009, 4G was introduced and there was a swine flu outbreak, and in 2020, when 5G was introduced, the world has suffered the coronavirus outbreak.

The claim has also been shared on Facebook. Similar claims connecting Covid-19 and 5G have been posted many times across Facebook since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic

But is there any connection between the introduction of 3G, 4G and 5G, and disease? 

3G, 4G and 5G

The “G” in all three names refers to which “generation” of cellular technology it is. In essence, mobile phone communications become faster with every development, and more data can be sent from phone to phone. 

The introduction of 3G in 2001 saw the birth of the smartphone. Before 3G, cell phones could only send text messages and voice calls. But with 3G “communication takes place at bit-rates high enough for sending and receiving photographs, video clips, music files, emails, and more”, according to Britannica

As early as 2005, 4G was available in South Korea, being rolled out in several European countries over the next few years. It was launched in the US in 2009.

The next generation of mobile internet connection is 5G, providing even faster data download and upload speeds.

According to the BBC, 5G could achieve browsing and download speeds about 10 to 20 times faster than 4G. But it’s only gradually being rolled out in big cities across the world. Most nodes are in Switzerland, South Korea, Kuwait, the US and the UK. 

Sars, swine flu and Covid-19

The first disease mentioned in the viral message is also a coronavirus. These are a group of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases. 

The severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, coronavirus was identified in 2003. It first infected humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002. A Sars epidemic affected 26 countries and resulted in more than 8,000 cases in 2003. 

Swine flu or H1N1 was responsible for a global influenza outbreak in 2009 and 2010. The virus was first identified in Mexico in April 2009, and became known as swine flu because it was similar to flu viruses that affect pigs.

An outbreak of the new coronavirus was identified in Wuhan, China in late December 2019. The technical name of the virus is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or Sars-CoV-2. It causes the disease Covid-19, and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020. 

No link between mobile networks and viruses

The WHO has been clear that viruses cannot travel on radio waves or mobile networks.

“Covid-19 is spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks,” it says. “Covid-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then their eyes, mouth or nose.”

Experts’ reactions

Godspower Ekuobase, a professor of computer science at the University of Benin in southern Nigeria, told Africa Check there is no correlation between 5G and Covid-19.

“Why would people even think 5G caused Covid-19?” he asked. “It is like saying hot iron causes malaria – it sounds absurd. Nigeria hasn’t even fully deployed 4G, not to mention 5G, and yet we are battling with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Research is ongoing and technology is improving. It is for our own good that we accept an improved form of technology rather than make false claims about it. 5G is an improvement over 4G.”

Samuel Okolie, a professor of computer science at Babcock University in southwestern Nigeria, also said there is no link between 5G and Covid-19. 

“I think these are two distinct issues which people are mixing up and getting themselves confused. There is no link between 5G and coronavirus. People should stick to what agencies such as Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Nigeria Communications Commission publish on their websites. 5G doesn’t cause Covid-19.”

Nigerian ministry debunks claim

Nigeria’s federal government has also addressedthe public concern about the health implications of the deployment of Fifth Generation Mobile Networks” and debunked claims that 5G is connected to Covid-19. 

The minister of communications and digital economy, Isa Ali Pantami, said no licence had been issued for the deployment of 5G in Nigeria.

He added that the trial for the 5G network had run for a period of three months starting 25 November 2019, to critically review the implications of deploying 5G in Nigeria, and that this reporting process was ongoing. 

 “The National Frequency Management Council, of which I am the chairman, has not deliberated on or released any bulk frequency spectrum for the deployment of 5G,” Pantami said.

Other agencies rate claim false

The Nigerian Communications Commission and telecoms operators have also condemned claims that 5G is causing Covid-19 in Nigeria. The agencies called on Nigerians to disregard the information.

On 5 April, the National Orientation Agency, which ensures government policies are better understood by the general public, also released a statement debunking the claim.

Social media is awash with messages that suggest 5G telecom masts may be responsible for #COVID19 outbreak in countries where service has been launched. @NigeriaGov has not issued a 5G operational license yet. No scientific evidence linking 5G network to #COVID19,” it said. – Motunrayo Joel


Republish our content for free

Please complete this form to receive the HTML sharing code.

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.