• Tue Apr 14 2020
  • Doubts on the link between 5G wireless communication and COVID-19

The evidence on COVID-19 is still limited and inconclusive because it is a new disease, and there's a lot we are yet to learn. This pandemic opens room for doubtful thoughts.
Journalist @ New vision
The evidence on COVID-19 is still limited and inconclusive because it is a new disease, and there's a lot we are yet to learn. This pandemic opens room for doubtful thoughts.

By Tonny Oyana

It is a fact that COVID-19 is having a huge impact on all of our lives. COVID-19 has caused a number of doubts and concerns among people. There are now numerous explanations regarding its origin and potential hosts, how it infects and potential dynamics, risk factors, genetic analysis, and potential psycho-socioeconomic impacts. 

Some of the arguments are rationale and well-justified while others are not. Some arguments are actually grounded in science with strong evidence while others are not. 

Having doubts in itself is not a bad thing. 

Doubts show uncertainty. They also illustrate how our thinking can be easily influenced by an influx of data and knowledge. Sorting all of this information out is not easy, given the abundance of free will. 

Doubts have a huge potential to drive curiosity and can yield further inquiries. 

Potentially, such doubts are powerful thoughts. They could lead us to develop new knowledge and innovations. 

In this article, I would like to address one of these doubted areas that are flying around.

One area that has come under heavy scrutiny is whether there is a link between 5G technology and COVID-19. 

In response to this doubted area, I will discuss how spatial perspectives together with emerging Fourth Industrial (4IR) technologies, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, big data analytics, sensors and sensor technologies, 5G wireless communication, Internet of Things (IoT), biotechnology and nanotechnology, etc. can be harnessed in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. 

In December 2019, the BlueDot algorithm picked up on a cluster of "unusual pneumonia" cases happening around a market in Wuhan, China, and flagged it. This algorithm uses natural language processing and machine learning models to cull data from thousands of sources. Later, Huawei installed a 5G network using 5G-enabled robots to take care of patients in 3 specialist hospitals.

The use of 5G is still limited and has only been launched in nearly 30 densely populated markets across the world. I have had the good fortune to visit and be hosted by both the two 5G global leaders (Ericsson and Huawei). They have numerous 5G applications that are currently being developed and validated in their labs. Current global technology is still heavily reliant on 4G and LTE technologies. 

5G is an enabler and a powerful solider in the war on COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are huge cost implications. Basic measures including washing hands, social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine, testing and monitoring, contact tracing, and respiratory hygiene are effective, cost less in comparison to the deployment of such technologies, especially since 5G infrastructure is undeveloped.

The benefits of 4IR technologies are enormous and valuable in the culling of data; they can be used for mapping, tracking, contact tracing, detection and predictions of new cases, health care services and delivery, patient care, among others.

We can send alert messages to inform residents of nearby cases as they have done in South Korea. We can identify vulnerable populations and those with preexisting conditions, etc.

Our government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology and National Guidance, Joint Security team, scientists, etc. are using the 41R technologies in the war against COVID-19.

Saturday's New Vision, 11 April 2020 suggests agencies are using GPS technology to track 18,000 recent travelers. This is probably being done using a combination of tools that cull through SIM Card registration, surveillance, national identification, GSM and cellular tower triangulation data.

Solid scientific evidence on the adverse health effects of 5G is still lacking, and we need well-designed longitudinal studies on this topic. 

In summary, the science on this topic is very young. It has a long way to go and will not be settled anytime soon. The evidence on COVID-19 is still limited and inconclusive because it is a new disease, and there's a lot we are yet to learn. This pandemic opens room for doubtful thoughts. 

We can refer to a recent review article for additional insights. It is a meta-analysis of 97 research articles examining whether there is a link between 5G wireless communication and health effects. It provides some fundamental clues for us to make our own conclusions. Let us not lend support to conspiracy theories that have no scientific basis. These theories will not advance our understanding.

The writer is a Professor of GIS and Spatial Analysis and Principal, College of Computing and Information Science, Makerere University