The Postal & Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (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. The Authority also extends heartfelt best wishes for speedy recovery to thousands of world citizens afflicted by the pandemic. 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, 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 such of conspiracy theories is linking the Fifth Generation cellular mobile technologies (5G) to the spread of COVID-19.
POTRAZ, as the science-based statutory body with responsibility over 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 of unimaginable proportions, which has no scientific basis nor real evidence backing it. Even outside the scientific realm evidence abound that many countries, Zimbabwe included, who are yet to rollout 5G are heavily afflicted by the pandemic while some countries with 5G have very few, if any, confirmed cases. For the avoidance of doubt on this point we underline that Zimbabwe does not have 5G deployments and yet is a well-known fact that COVID-19 is in our midst and the number of cases is increasing by the day.
POTRAZ takes this opportunity to assure all Zimbabweans and the public in general that only standardised network equipment is allowed for deployment in Zimbabwe. As a minimum all mobile networks in Zimbabwe are designed and equipped to meet International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standards, broadly known as International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT) standards. IMT standards, 5G/IMT 2020 included, are designed with human utmost consideration to human safety and environmental protection. The equipment and therefore networks operate within electromagnetic fields (EMF) exposure limits set out in guidelines developed by the following international institution:
- 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 exposure limits for EMF fields developed by the two international organizations, both of which are formally recognised by WHO, are developed through a peer-review scientific process, including thermal and non-thermal effects. The standards are based on evaluations of biological effects that have been established to have health consequences and the equipment is type-approved for conformity to the standards.
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.
- Radiofrequency (RF) radiation is non-ionising.
- Electromagnetic fields of all frequencies represent one of the most common and fastest growing environmental influences, about which anxiety and speculation are spreading. All populations are now exposed to varying degrees of EMF, and the levels will continue to increase as technology advances.
- 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 are commonly used in other applications, such as point-to-point radio links and body-scanners for security checks.
- At these higher frequencies, 5G networks will use a greater number of base stations and of connected objects. 5G will further 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 but, so far, only a few studies have been carried out at the frequencies to be used by 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.
- There is no scientific link between 5G and COVID-19
- 5G operates in the non-ionizing portion of the electromagnetic field.
- There are no 5G deployments in Zimbabwe.
- All network deployments in Zimbabwe are done in accordance with ITU-based international standards.
- Network vandalism is a crime which carries a minimum of ten years in jail.
- More than ever before ICTs and connectivity are vitally crucial in this moment 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.