An online conspiracy theory blaming 5G for the coronavirus pandemic has led to arson attacks on approximately 50 phone masts in the UK.
Mobile UK, an organization that represents Britain's four mobile operators, confirmed the estimate to Business Insider.
A handful of attacks on phone masts took place in early April, but the Easter bank holiday weekend (April 10 to 13) saw a fresh burst of attacks.
Vodafone, EE, and BT also confirmed over the weekend that phone masts had been attacked, placing the blame firmly on 5G conspiracy theorists.
EE told the I newspaper that 22 towers had been set alight during the four-day holiday. The firm said that while not all the attacks were successful, all the sites had sustained damage from the fires.
One attack forced the evacuation of people from the home development that the mast was attached to. According to EE, the majority of the masts were not 5G.
Vodafone CEO Nick Jeffrey said in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday that 20 of the company's masts have been attacked, including a mast that provided coverage to Birmingham's Nightingale hospital, a newly erected emergency hospital set up to house coronavirus patients.
"It's heart-rending enough that families cannot be there at the bedside of loved ones who are critically ill. It's even more upsetting that even the small solace of a phone or video call may now be denied them because of the selfish actions of a few deluded conspiracy theorists," Jeffrey wrote.
BT CEO Philip Jansen wrote in an op-ed for the Mail on Sunday that 11 of BT's masts have been set alight, and 39 engineers had been attacked.
Three has not given specifics on damage, but its CEO Robert Finnegan condemned attacks on engineers and masts. "This is absolutely vital work and the actions of a small minority who are abusing workers and vandalizing masts is extremely concerning," he said.
A tally would suggest that a minimum of 53 towers have been set ablaze across the UK.
Mobile UK said in a statement: "Theories being spread about 5G are baseless and are not grounded in credible scientific theory.
"Mobile operators are dedicated to keeping the UK connected, and careless talk could cause untold damage. Continuing attacks on mobile infrastructure risks lives and at this challenging time the UK's critical sectors must be able to focus all their efforts fighting this pandemic."
The anti-5G conspiracy suggests the tech is harmful and exacerbated the coronavirus
Anti-5G activists have claimed for years that the superfast mobile tech causes harm to humans.
The conspiracy theory mutated around January during the coronavirus outbreak to rest on the idea that 5G is either accelerating the spread of the virus, or that the virus itself is a myth concocted to cover up physical damage being done by 5G. That theory has picked up in the UK through March and April, as the nation's death toll rises.
There is no evidence to suggest 5G is harmful to human health, and multiple organizations, including the international radiation watchdog ICNIRP, have confirmed 5G is safe.
But anti-5G groups have started encouraging arson against phone masts. Over the weekend, Facebook removed two anti-5G groups whose members totaled more than 60,000, and who encouraged the destruction of 5G kit.