Explained: How a pizza parlour employee’s lie triggered South Australia’s strictest lockdown yet

The state’s premier Steven Marshall has said that the strict curbs will now be revoked at midnight on Saturday (November 21), at least two days earlier than originally planned, as the virus was not as contagious as they had initially believed.

Authorities in South Australia have announced that they are cutting short the state’s harshest-yet six-day ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown after discovering that an employee of a local pizza parlour had lied to health officials about how he had contracted Covid-19.

The state’s premier Steven Marshall has said that the strict curbs will now be revoked at midnight on Saturday (November 21), at least two days earlier than originally planned, as the virus was not as contagious as they had initially believed.

On Wednesday, officials imposed strict stay-at-home orders to contain a growing cluster of infections in the state. All schools, takeaway restaurants, pubs and shops were closed and outdoor exercise was banned in what was widely touted one of the world’s toughest lockdowns since the pandemic first began.

Why was the six-day lockdown in South Australia cut short?

At a press conference on Friday, Premier Steven Marshall revealed that the recent slew of restrictions were imposed in the Australian state because of one man’s “lie”.

He alleged that the employee of a local pizza parlour in Adelaide had “deliberately misled” contact-tracing investigators by claiming that he was just a customer at the restaurant, when he had actually worked several shifts there alongside another worker who had tested positive for Covid-19.

“One of the close contacts linked to the Woodville pizza bar deliberately misled our contact-tracing team,” Marshall told reporters. “Their story didn’t add up. We pursued them. We now know that they lied.”

Since the unidentified man — who also worked as a security guard at a quarantine hotel in the city — claimed that he had contracted the virus after merely buying a pizza from the restaurant, health officials feared that he was exposed to a highly contagious strain of the deadly virus.

He had, in fact, been infected after coming in contact with a traveller who was returning to the country from the United Kingdom, Reuters reported. South Australian authorities have said that the lockdown could have been avoided if the man had just been honest about working at the pizza parlour. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

“Had this person been truthful to the contact tracing teams, we would not have gone into a six-day lockdown,” Marshall said.

How did authorities find out that the man had lied?

The pizza parlour employee was interviewed by a contact tracing team earlier this week. However, when another team reviewed the information obtained during the interview, they found that there were many glaring holes in the answers he had provided.

They were not satisfied with “the feeling they got from this”, South Australia Police Commissioner Grant Stevens recalled during the press conference. When the review team went back to interview the man once again, he finally admitted that he had worked several shifts at the pizza parlour, Reuters reported.

The South Australian police have since deployed a 20-strong task force of senior detectives to investigate whether the man had any criminal motives. According to the head of the task force, Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey, the team is looking into all the information received by the contact tracers to see whether any laws had been breached.

Premier Marshall told Australian broadcaster ABC that the task force was set up to “look at all and every aspect of the evidence that was provided and the consequences that have ensued from there.”

“This person’s failure to be truthful with contact tracers means his close associates — who we understand he’s had close contact with — haven’t been identified and are currently in the community,” Stevens pointed out.

Will the man face criminal charges?

While law enforcement authorities are looking into the legal consequences the man may face in the days to come, Stevens said that police action had been ruled out since there was “no penalty associated with telling lies”.

“To say I am fuming about the actions of this individual is an absolute understatement. These selfish actions of this individual have put our whole state in a very difficult situation,” Premier Marshall said.

When asked whether the pizza parlour would receive extra security after his announcement due to public anger, Stevens said, “There are all sorts of things we are considering at this point.”

Will the restrictions be revoked completely?

South Australian authorities have announced that the lockdown will be lifted on Saturday at midnight and the ban on outdoor exercise and dog walking will be revoked too.

But health officials have said that the situation is still dangerous and the new cluster of 25 infections is expected to grow over the next few days. All of the state’s 1.7 million people have been urged to wear face masks while outdoors until authorities are certain that the outbreak has been contained.

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