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Conspiracy crackpots blaming 5G roll-out for spread of virus

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This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes

This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes

This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes

Why did Eamonn Holmes land himself in such hot water this week?

The Belfast-born presenter of ITV's This Morning has been accused of spreading dangerous conspiracy theories about Covid-19.

Ever since the coronavirus first reared its ugly head, rumours have circulated on Facebook and other social media platforms that it may have sinister links to 5G technology.

This is apparently prompting gullible idiots to attack mobile phone masts, here and in Britain, which is why authorities say they could do without celebrities giving the story any credibility.

First of all, what exactly is 5G?

It stands for Fifth Generation and is basically the latest version of mobile communications networks.

Although 5G promises to deliver internet data at higher speeds than ever before, some critics claim the radiation it emits could cause cancer and other diseases.

It was first introduced to Ireland last year, but councillors in Clare, Leitrim, Sligo and Wicklow have all passed motions objecting to the installation of 5G infrastructure in their areas.

How has 5G been associated with Covid-19?

There's no single theory. Some suggest 5G actually transmits the virus, while others say it weakens people's immune systems or reduces their intake of oxygen.

A few crackpots even believe Covid-19 is a massive hoax designed to lock down society while phone companies roll out 5G everywhere and put us all under mass surveillance.

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Anti-5G graffiti in London

Anti-5G graffiti in London

REUTERS

Anti-5G graffiti in London

This theory is a favourite of David Icke, the former BBC sports presenter who has also claimed to be the son of God and insisted that the world is secretly run by shape-shifting lizards.

Is there any scientific basis for these ideas?

Absolutely none. "5G mobile networks do not spread Covid-19," the World Health Organisation stated bluntly in an advisory notice last month. "Viruses cannot travel on radio waves."

The European Commission and our own Department of Health also agree that Covid- 19 is transmitted by sneezing and cough droplets, not radiation. While radio waves can raise temperatures, every serious study shows 5G isn't nearly strong enough to have any significant effect.

Does it really matter if anyone is taken in by such crazy notions?

It matters when they decide to take the law into their own hands. Two mobile phone masts were set on fire in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, last Sunday night, and gardai suspect the culprits were motivated by concerns over 5G.

In Ballyfermot last week, protesters threw onions at engineers upgrading a 4G site.

Irish mobile operators say they're worried, but so far our lunatic fringe is small compared with Britain, where there have been more than 40 recorded attacks on 5G infrastructure.

Some of the damaged masts (including those Donegal ones) were designed to improve phone coverage in local hospitals.

"Arsonists, please think about what you are doing and stop," Vodafone UK chief executive Nick Jeffery pleaded this week.

"Imagine if it were your mum or dad, your gran or grandad in hospital. Imagine not being able to see or hear them one last time. All because you've swallowed a dangerous lie."

What did Eamonn Holmes have to say about all this?

On last Monday's edition of This Morning, he interviewed the former Watchdog presenter Alice Beer, who dismissed fears over 5G as "not true" and "incredibly stupid".

Holmes sounded a note of caution, replying: "What I don't accept is mainstream media immediately slapping that down as not true when they don't know it's not true.

"No one should attack masts or damage or do anything like that, but it's very easy to say it's not true because it suits the state narrative. That's all I would say, as someone with an inquiring mind."

How did that go down with the scientific community?

Not well. "5G conspiracy theories are zombie myths that do serious harm," the Irish cancer researcher Dr David Robert Grimes tweeted. "When people like Eamonn Holmes endorse them on air, it's exhausting. Eamonn, if you want to utilise your 'inquiring mind', maybe talk to the scientists and physicians who are experts first."

Other academics condemned Holmes' comments as "utter rubbish", "deeply irresponsible" and "a stupid piece of broadcasting". Perhaps most worryingly for him, the UK media regulator, Ofcom, said it had received 419 complaints from viewers and would be examining the programme "as a priority".

Did Holmes recognise his mistake quickly?

He stuck to his guns for a while, tweeting on Monday morning: "I didn't spread [conspiracy theories]... I reserve the right to listen and question." At the start of Tuesday's show, however, he announced he wanted to "clarify some comments some of you may have misinterpreted".

He accepted that there is no connection at all between 5G and Covid-19, but added: "Many people are rightly concerned and are looking for answers and that's simply what I was trying to do. I hope that clears that up."

Finally, will this do Holmes' career any lasting damage?

Probably not. He's not the first celebrity to get into trouble over this issue - Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson, rap star MIA and boxing champion Amir Khan were also recently accused of peddling 5G scare stories.

Holmes has already survived previous awkward moments, such as telling two gay interviewees "You're not meant to have children, you're going against nature" and calling singer Jonathan Wilkes "retarded".

However, scientists battling Covid-19 will be hoping that Holmes' embarrassment makes others think twice before recklessly passing on foolish lies.

As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar put it in his address to the nation on St Patrick's Day: "Please rely only on information from trusted sources. Do not forward or share messages that are from other, unreliable sources.

"So much harm has already been caused by those messages and fear is a virus in itself."