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VERIFY: No evidence to support Woody Harrelson's claim that 5G and COVID-19 are linked

People have tried to link 5G rollouts with the COVID-19 pandemic since January. The claim was recently amplified by celebrities.
Credit: AP
Mobile network phone masts are visible in front of St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

People have been trying to make connections to the COVID-19 outbreak and the installation of 5G since the outbreak began in China in January.

The rumors have recently been thrust into the broader public eye by actor Woody Harrelson sharing them on his Instagram. His post also included a video of what he claimed were Chinese citizens taking down 5G antennas because they knew they were a threat. He has since deleted the post.

Credit: VERIFY

The rumors have also recently led people to taking action on what they perceive as a threat. People in the United Kingdom have set fire to 5G towers in the country and harassed installation workers.

But there is no evidence to support these claims.

THE QUESTION

Is the COVID-19 pandemic linked to the installation of 5G?

THE ANSWER

There is no evidence to support this. In fact, much of the spread has been in places with no 5G coverage.

WHAT WE FOUND

One pillar of this claim is that Wuhan was China’s “first 5G smart city” or the first city in China’s 5G rollout.

And it’s true that Wuhan is one of China’s first 5G cities, but it’s not the very first. A May 2019 article from a state-owned Chinese news agency reported “Wuhan, capital of Hubei, is one of the first pilot cities of the 5G network in China.” An October 2019 Reuters article reported on the launch of 5G networks in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou.

None of those cities were hit as hard as Wuhan and the broader Hubei province Wuhan is in. The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Map indicates that over 67,000 of China’s 82,000 cases have been in Hubei. Beijing and Shanghai had just over 500 cases while the provinces Guangzhou and Hangzhou are located in had just over 1,000 cases each.

The spread of the virus worldwide doesn’t match the claim that 5G exacerbates its spread, either. Ookla has a map of 5G rollouts worldwide down to the specific city. A few countries stand out that show the link between COVID-19 and 5G is flimsy at best.

France has yet to rollout 5G, neither has Iran or Turkey. Those countries, according to the Johns Hopkins data, have the fifth, seventh and ninth greatest number of COVID-19 cases worldwide.

Meanwhile, South Korea rolled out more 5G than most other countries in the world -- especially considering the small size of the country. While South Korea was one of the first countries outside of China to see widespread transmission of the virus, the country quickly got it under control and leveled off its new cases some time ago. Despite seeing the virus spread earlier than most other countries, and having a more widespread 5G rollout than most other nations, South Korea has been 19th on this list of countries with the most cases of COVID-19.

One last claim regarding the coronavirus outbreak and 5G is the video actor Woody Harrelson claimed was a video of Chinese people bringing down 5G antennas. That description of the video is wrong.

The video can be found on a Guardian article from August. It depicts Hong Kong protesters taking down a “smart” lamp-post because of concerns over surveillance during protests. This was before the coronavirus outbreak began.

So while theories my be floating around the internet that 5G might be linked to the outbreak of a new coronavirus, after digging a little deeper, the evidence is weak or non-existent. The new coronavirus has spread through many parts of the world where 5G roll-outs are taking place, but viruses spread more often in crowded places like dense cities, which are more likely to have such technological advances first.