Fact check: COVID-19 symptoms are not always ‘mild’; mask use and 5G will not weaken the immune system

An image shared on social media outlines a three-phase conspiracy theory linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The text in the image contains several false claims.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

The image was shared on social media (examples here, here and here) and receiving hundreds of shares as of July 16, 2020. There are numerous elements of speculation in the text but this fact check will focus on four key claims made by the author.

“Mild symptoms at most”

Within the first ‘phase’ described in the text is a claim that COVID-19 causes only “mild symptoms at most”. The World Health Organization (WHO) does indeed state that “most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization” (here). However, it also lists “serious symptoms” of the disease as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure and loss of speech or movement.

As reported by Reuters in April 2020, doctors described seeing patients deteriorate rapidly (here). “Patients might enter the hospital with strong oxygen levels and be engaged in happy conversation,” a resident emergency doctor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital said, only to be “gasping for breath” and intubated a few hours later”.

As of July 16, 2020, the WHO said over 580,000 COVID-19 deaths had been reported to the organization (

“Flawed testing system utilized, which picks up any genetic material in the body and triggers a positive result”

The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test is widely used in detecting COVID-19. PCR identifies substances qualitatively not quantitatively, detecting the genetic sequences of viruses, but not the viruses themselves. As Reuters previously reported (here), this is a feature of the test that has been misidentified as a flaw. A spokesperson for Public Health England told Reuters: “Molecular diagnostic tests, such as real-time PCR, are the gold standard methods for identifying individuals with an active viral infection, such as SARS-CoV-2 (the cause of COVID-19 disease), in their respiratory tract. These tests are rapid and produce results in real-time.”

“The first phase will lead to weakened immune systems through lack of food, social distancing, wearing of masks and lack of contact with sunlight and healthy bacteria”

Reuters found no expert evidence to support the claim that wearing face masks weakens the immune system (here). Research has found that loneliness and social isolation can have a direct adverse effect on health. Adequate food and sunlight are important for general health, including immune function, and some people may have experienced food insecurity (here) or reduced opportunity to be outdoors (here) during the lockdown period.

“Exposure to 5G radiation will further attack the immune system”

The World Health Organization says no research has linked exposure to wireless technology with negative health effects (here). Reuters has previously written about misleading attempts to links COVID-19 and 5G networks (here) and (here).


Partly false. Most people with COVID-19 develop mild to moderate symptoms, but for some the symptoms are severe and can lead to death. PCR tests detect the genetic sequences of viruses, allowing the test to show a particular virus is present. Face mask use and 5G networks do not weaken the immune system, but deprivation of food, sunlight and social support may do.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .