The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has scoffed at theories linking the Fifth Generation cellular mobile technologies (5G) to the spread of COVID-19.
In doing so, POTRAZ joins the rest of the world in mourning thousands of lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic and offers its most sincere condolences to families that have lost loved ones as a result.
POTRAZ Director-General, Dr. Gift Machengete extended the authority’s heartfelt best wishes for a speedy recovery to thousands of world citizens afflicted by the pandemic.
He underscored the fact that the world is in an unprecedented crisis and Zimbabwe has not been spared.
As the global community escalates efforts to defend itself against the vicious and yet invisible enemy, coronavirus, Dr. Machengete said it is deeply concerning and disheartening to note that misinformation and unfounded conspiracy theories are being spewed by some elements of our society into the public domain, through – among other channels – the Internet, causing confusion, anxiety, and harm to the global community and its infrastructures.
“One of such conspiracy theories is linking the Fifth Generation cellular mobile technologies (5G) to the spread of COVID-19. Resultantly, in a number of countries, 5G and communications infrastructure, in general, have been subjected to acts of vandalism, arson and various acts of sabotage as citizens seek to “free the themselves” from a technology they believe is the underlying cause for the deadly pandemic.
“We strongly remind members of the public that under Zimbabwean law, network vandalism or intentional damage to critical information infrastructure is a criminal offence which, upon conviction, carries a minimum of ten years in jail,” Dr. Machengete said
He empasised that POTRAZ, as a science-based statutory body with responsibility for the safe and orderly rollout of telecommunication networks in Zimbabwe, would like to make it clear to the citizenry and public at large, that the purported link between 5G and COVID-19 is a falsehood, which has no scientific basis nor real evidence backing it.
“Even outside the scientific realm, evidence abounds that many countries, Zimbabwe included, which are yet to roll out 5G are heavily afflicted by the pandemic, while some countries with 5G have very few, if any, confirmed cases.
“For the avoidance of doubt however, we wish to stress that Zimbabwe does not have 5G deployments and yet it is a well-known fact that COVID-19 is in our midst, and the number of cases is increasing by the day,” the scientist said.
POTRAZ took the opportunity to assure all Zimbabweans and the public in general that only standardised network equipment is allowed for deployment in Zimbabwe.
As a minimum, Dr. Machengete said, all mobile networks in Zimbabwe are designed and equipped to meet the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standards, broadly known as International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT) standards.
IMT standards, 5G/IMT 2020 included, are designed with utmost human consideration regarding safety and environmental protection. The equipment, and therefore networks, operate within electromagnetic fields (EMF) exposure limits set out in guidelines developed by the following renowned international institutions:
- The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and,
- The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), through the International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety.
The EMF guidelines produced by the two international organizations, both of which are formally recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO), are developed through a peer-review-based scientific process involving engineering, medical and other eminent experts.
Through the process, biological effects including thermal and non-thermal effects of EMF exposure for various power density levels are determined and the respective protection limits are set with an agreed safety margin. For purposes of enforcing conformance to set standards, network equipment is subjected to either type-approval or type-acceptance, as deemed appropriate by the National Regulatory Authority (NRA).
Domestically, after wide stakeholder consultations and a workshop which was graced by international EMF experts from WHO and GSMA, Zimbabwe came up with Statutory Instrument 130 of 2017 (Postal and Telecommunications – Human Exposure to Non-Ionising Electromagnetic Field Radiation Regulations, 2017) which prescribes the exposure limits for the frequency range 100KHz – 300GHz. These regulations are modelled on WHO Model Legislation and Regulations.
There are a few basic facts to note about electromagnetic fields:
- Electromagnetic radiation has been around since the birth of the universe; light is its most familiar form. Electric and magnetic fields are part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation which extends from static electric and magnetic fields, through radiofrequency and infrared radiation, to X-rays.
- Radio waves ( 8kHz – 300GHz) are non-ionising meaning they do not have requisite energy density to strip electrons from atoms and thus breaking chemical bonds resulting in damages to cells. Science has however established that radio waves have a thermal (heating) effect on human tissue hence the need to set exposure limits.
- 5G technology, as is the case with its predecessor technologies (1G, 2G, 3G and 4G), uses radio waves which, as stated above, are non-ionised and can therefore not be associated with the degradation or failure of the human immune system or non-thermal deformation of human cells.
- 5G, or Fifth Generation, is the latest wireless mobile phone technology, first widely deployed in 2019.
- 5G is expected to increase performance and a wide range of new applications, including strengthening e-Health (telemedicine, remote surveillance, telesurgery).
- 5G represents an evolution in telecommunication standards. To enable increased performance, 5G will extend into higher frequencies around 3.5 GHz and up to a few tens of GHz. The higher frequencies are new to mobile phone networks, but have been studied for more than seven years and have, for a long time been commonly used in other applications, such as point-to-point radio links and body-scanners for security checks.
- Unlike its predecessors, 5G will be more human and environmentally friendly as it will employ beam-forming antennas to focus signals more efficiently towards the device in use, rather than having the signal spread in broad directions as in current base station antennas.
- To date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies. Health-related conclusions are drawn from studies performed across the entire radio spectrum including those to be used for 5G.
- Tissue heating is the main mechanism of interaction between radiofrequency fields and the human body. Radiofrequency exposure levels from current technologies result in negligible temperature rise in the human body.
- As the frequency increases, there is less penetration into the body tissues and absorption of the energy becomes more confined to the surface of the body (skin and eye).
- Provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated.
In conclusion, POTRAZ noted the following key points:
- There is no scientific link between 5G and COVID-19 or its spread.
- There is no clinical evidence linking 5G and COVID-19 or its spread.
- 5G operates in the non-ionizing portion of the electromagnetic field.
- Currently there are no 5G deployments in Zimbabwe.
- All network deployments in Zimbabwe are done in accordance with ITU-based international standards.
- Under Zimbabwean law, network vandalism or intentional damage to critical information infrastructure is a criminal offence which, upon conviction, carries a minimum of ten years in jail.
- More than ever before, ICTs and connectivity are vitally crucial as people practice social distancing, work from home, need to keep in touch with relatives, friends and partners across the world, and may need to engage emergency services at any given time.