Telecoms masts have been torched in the UK following a conspiracy theory peddled on social media that linked the 5G network to the spread of coronavirus.
The UK government condemned the rumours as dangerous fake news after a number of celebrities promoted the conspiracy theory on social media.
A trade body called on social media networks to act faster to remove the claims and for authorities to take action if telecoms staff were threatened.
Mobile phone masts have been vandalised and telecoms staff abused in central and north-west England at a time when the lockdown has increased stress on the network. The tower attacked in the UK’s second city of Birmingham did not even have 5G capability.
Celebrities who have shared the theory online include actor Woody Harrelson and former world champion boxer Amir Khan.
“Coronavirus this, coronavirus that – you’re probably getting bored of it, as I am,” the boxer said on an Instagram post. “Do you not think it’s anything to do with that 5G in these towers that are going up?”
NHS England's national medical director, Stephen Powis, said the 5G conspiracy was “complete and utter rubbish, it's nonsense, it’s the worst kind of fake news.
"Those are also the phone networks that are used by our emergency services and our health workers and I'm absolutely outraged, absolutely disgusted that people would be taking action against the very infrastructure that we need to respond to this health emergency,” he said.
GSMA, which represents mobile networks, called on internet providers to accelerate their efforts to remove fake news linking 5G to the spread of Covid-19. It also called for governments to take action when its engineers were threatened.
Director general Mats Granryd said: “It is deplorable that critical communications infrastructure is being attacked based on outright mistruths.
“We urge everyone to trust health authorities and rest assured communications technology is safe. There is no link between 5G and Covid-19."