By Nkechi Isaac

Various media outlets, particularly social media, were awash with stories linking the roll-out of 5G mobile network to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic over the past weeks. These included spurious theories claiming that 5G makes people more susceptible to the virus while some more extreme proposals even theorized it as leading to ‘Armageddon’ and the end of the world.

These claims are similar to the conspiracy theories still making the rounds on biotechnology, saying it makes people sick. The anti-GMO conspiracists are leading the crusade in demonizing a technology that has huge potential in positively impacting the human race and feeding its populace. 

Experts across the globe have debunked the erroneous theories saying there is no truth in the stories making the rounds. They clarified that 5G is simply part of the electromagentic spectrum, like radio waves and visible light, and does not create viruses.

Yusuf Sambo, a researcher at the University of Glasgow who is testing 5G in Scotland, described the theories being spread on the idea of a connection between Covid-19 and 5G as “complete rubbish and biologically impossible.”

Similarly, I. Popoola, a professor of radiation physics in the University of Ibadan, Nigeria described 5G as simply a transmission at a higher frequency range than 4G.

“This feature implies transmission of greater quantum of energy (signal) per time, hence heavy data (such as images) will download faster and will be transmitted at higher resolution. Meanwhile this may require more booster antennas at closer ranges in order to travel very far because high frequency signals get attenuated faster than low frequency signals. In short 5G will be able to accommodate larger data than 4G. 

“Generally, people have always displayed some fear each time a new technology arises. The fear attributed to mobile technology is that the signals (waves) are injurious to humans. Meanwhile all mobile signals most fall within microwaves (extreme end of radio waves) which are non ionizing radiations. Ionizing radiations like x-rays and gamma rays have far higher frequencies and exposure to human body may be injurious. However, they are not used for mobile telecommunication,” he said.

On modern biotechnology especially in the agricultural sector, there is a scientific consensus that the technology provides powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture, fisheries and forestry as well as the food industry. In taking their position, academic agencies and organizations have determined that the technology does not pose any health risk and has seen over 20 years of safe use.

5G/Biotechnology Potentials

Enhanced mobile broadband – the advent of 5G technology will enhance faster speed, lower latency, and greater capacity which could enable on-the-go, ultra-high-definition video, virtual reality, and other advanced applications.

It would also boost Internet of Things (IoT) – this will enable more connections at once (up to one million per square kilometer) at very low powerThis will tackle the explosive growth in the number of connected devices existing networks are struggling to keep pace with.

Mission-critical control – Because 5G has the potential to deliver significantly lower latency (to about one millisecond), it opens the door to use cases in healthcare, utilities, and other time-critical contexts amongst others.

On the other hand, apart from benefits of biotechnology in the agricultural sector which include developing better crops for improved yield, reduced vulnerability of crops to environmental stresses, increased nutritional qualities of food crops, improved taste, texture or appearance of food, reduced dependence on fertilizers, pesticides and other agrochemicals, biotechnology is also useful in the health sector in terms of coming up with vaccines for life threatening ailments, antibiotics and hormonal drugs.

For instance, biotechnology has been used for the development of insulin, widely used for the treatment of diabetes.

In the environment sector, biotechnology is also useful in the fight against climate change and cleaning up of degraded environment amongst others.

How These Claims Harm Potentials Available in Technologies

The peddling of conspiracy theories thrives on fear of the unknown. Feeding these fears through misinformation denies the human race the opportunity of harnessing the potentials available in such technologies for societal benefits.

These technologies are developed to improve the existing solutions on ground but when they are demonized, society invariably misses out on the opportunity of using the technologies irrespective of the potentials they hold.

New and emerging technologies to help the world in various sectors such as health, agriculture, information and communication technology, science and technology, environment, commerce etc are developed from time to time to add value to the world.

Given there is the tendency for people to be concerned about new technologies that they are not familiar with, there is need to stress that there can never be meaningful progress and development if we allow fear to stop us from adopting and applying such technologies with great potentials.

If world regulatory bodies with established international standards like the WHO, FAO, USDA, UNEP et al study and approve any technology as safe, it is the responsibility of governments to come up with appropriate regulations to ensure such technologies are applied in a responsible way for the benefit of the society and humanity.

We should not deny humanity the opportunity of developing and doing things more smartly by embracing jingoists who try to mislead us all with baseless conspiracy theories. It is our moral obligation to give technology a chance.