UK markets closed

999 call volumes like New Year’s Eve every day, says BT executive

Mark Sweney
Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

The volume of calls to the UK’s 999 emergency services number is running at “New Year’s Eve levels every day” as the coronavirus pandemic grips the country, according to a BT executive.

Marc Allera, who runs BT’s consumer division including mobile operator EE, made the comments while addressing the issue of a spate of attacks on mobile phone masts by conspiracy theorists who believe 5G technology is responsible for, or amplifies, coronavirus.

“At a time when we all need our networks more than ever before we have had quite a large number of cases of vandalism,” he told BBC 5 live on Thursday. “One was even set on fire. The thing that keeps me awake at night, just imagine if there was a critical 999 call that needed to be made from that mobile mast that couldn’t get through. Right at the moment we are seeing 999 calls at New Year’s Eve volumes pretty much every single day.”

BT said that New Year’s Eve is the busiest day of the year for 999 calls. The service receives 33m calls a year, with 93,000 on a typical day. On New Year’s Eve more than half a total day’s calls come in just a six-hour period in the evening, at a rate of about 9,000 per hour.

BT said it has increased staff numbers to make sure all 999 calls are being answered quickly, and that call numbers have stabilised.

The UK on Wednesday recorded the most daily deaths to date – 938, close to the peaks seen in Italy and Spain – with the peak expected to be more than a week away.

Allera said BT had been working with the Silicon Valley giants to take down conspiracy group pages and sites circulating false claims about 5G.

“It is completely unfounded, there is not a shred of evidence linking 5G or any mobile technology to any illness,” he said. ‘We have worked hard with Facebook and Google and YouTube to take down these sites that are putting out these messages that are not true.”

Earlier this week rival Vodafone revealed the volume of calls to the NHS 111 helpline had surged by 400% since coronavirus became a national health crisis.

Vodafone, which provides the lines and handles the call traffic for the NHS 111 call centre, said it had doubled capacity to handle 2,400 calls simultaneously.