Viral video claiming 5G caused pandemic easily debunked
Video spreads false claims linking technology to coronavirus
A viral video by an American doctor who is on disciplinary probation claims that the coronavirus pandemic was caused by 5G technology.
However, it contains many false claims and inaccuracies that are easily debunked by virologists, CBC News has found.
In the video, Dr. Thomas Cowan claims viruses are the waste from cells that are poisoned. Some of the poisoning, he said, comes from electromagnetic fields.
How did the video go viral?
The original video was uploaded to YouTube on March 12. It quickly went viral and racked up 16,000 shares and 390,000 views within a week. Many more copies of the video exist online, some with translations in different languages. At least five other YouTube users have uploaded it to their channels.
The video has also been uploaded by more than a dozen Facebook pages, as well as on Instagram and Twitter. It was notably shared on Instagram by American singer Keri Hilson to her 2.3 millions followers. After it sparked controversy, Hilson deleted her post.
It's impossible to measure how many shares and views this video garnered in total, but it has been viewed by at least several hundreds of thousands of people.
Debunking the claims
In the video, Cowan claims that viruses are simply the byproduct of a cell that has been poisoned.
One of Canada's top virologists says that isn't so.
"Viruses are not just debris," said Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist and Canada research chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba.
"Viruses don't just get created as a way to deal with poison."
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Viruses, Kindrachuck said, are small pieces of genetic material surrounded by a protein coat.
"The virus basically is essentially inert until it basically binds specifically to certain types of cells," Kindrachuck said.
"Once it gets inside of our cell, it releases its genomic material and then it uses basically our host cell machinery to create more and more and more copies of itself."
As proof that the cause of the global pandemic is not debris, Kindracuk points to various scientific investigations into the coronavirus, including the fact researchers have been able to take it apart physically and put the virus sequence back together and use it to infect primates.
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"We've been able to put that virus into rhesus macaques, which are a non-human primate and are very similar to humans in terms of how they respond to many different pathogens and illnesses," said Kindrachuk.
"Those animals get sick with something that looks kind of like mild COVID-19. So I think the data is so overwhelmingly valid."
Kindrachuk also said he has seen variations of the theory that 5G causes illness emerge long before the COVID-19 outbreak.
"It's actually been something that the anti-vax community has used fairly frequently as part of their argument against vaccination. So I'm not surprised. I'm disenchanted by the fact that even during a pandemic and a global health crisis, that this stuff keeps resurfacing," Kindrachuck said.
Other inaccuracies and fabrications
Many other claims made by Cowan in the video don't hold up to scrutiny.
For example, he said the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic coincided with the worldwide introduction of radio, proving that radio waves caused the outbreak. However, the first commercial radio station, XWA from Montreal, started broadcasting in 1920.
He also claims that the Boston health department tried to experiment with the 1918 flu virus by purposefully infecting healthy people with the mucus of infected patients, and that the result was that the healthy people didn't get sick. There is no proof this ever happened. The only mentions of this story we found on the internet were either on Cowan's site or on forums mentioning Cowan's newsletter.
Indeed, health authorities at the time, in Boston and elsewhere, were quite aware that the outbreak was caused by a virus that could easily spread. For example, authorities in Boston asked women who were dating sailors, one of the first groups to introduce the outbreak to the U.S. mainland, not to kiss them so as not to catch the disease.
The Boston health department was even lauded in 1990 in the American Journal of Public Health for using open-air hospitals to slow down the spread of the 1918 virus. According to a review of public health records, the journal found that "a combination of fresh air, sunlight, scrupulous standards of hygiene and reusable face masks appears to have substantially reduced deaths among some patients and infections among medical staff."
Cowan claims that Wuhan, the location where the COVID-19 outbreak began, was the first city to be covered by 5G. He insists that this is proof that these two things are linked. However, cities in South Korea and the U.S. had 5G networks before Wuhan did.
Also of note, Iran, one of the worst hotspots for COVID-19, does not have a 5G network, alongside other countries like Japan and Malaysia, also hit hard by the pandemic.
Who is the man in the video?
Cowan is an American holistic medical practitioner who trained as a physician.
He is currently operating on probation with the medical board in California and has limits on his practice after a 2017 complaint to the state medical board that, among other things, he had offered an unlicensed drug to a breast cancer patient without informing her it wasn't approved for use.
He also never saw the patient in person nor did he review her full medical file, according to documents from the Medical Board of California detailing why Cowan was to be disciplined.
Cowan has authored several books that promote ideas contrary to conventional medical wisdom including one that argues against the immunization of children.
Cowan's viral theory on 5G and the spread of coronavirus was recorded earlier this month in Tucson, Ariz., at a conference put on by a group called the Humans for Humanity Coalition. That event was also attended by people opposed to vaccines, including discredited researcher Andrew Wakefield, whose study linking the MMR shot to autism in children was retracted in 2010.
Cowan did not respond to CBC News's request for comment.
CBC's COVID-Check unit is here to help you sift through the noise and get to the truth. If there is something you want us to check out and verify, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.