ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA (VINnews) — A pizza worker who lied about his profession caused an estimated 1.7 million South Australia residents to go into lockdown after the state was convinced that a contagious new strain of COVID-19 had been discovered.
The lockdown in the region, which has not seen any COVID-19 infections since April, beagan Wednesday after state officials detected 36 new infections. Authorities initiated the lockdown after the worker told them that he had only entered the pizza store briefly to collect a takeaway pizza but still tested positive. The assumption was that the new strain was highly contagious if a momentary exposure led to infection and contact tracers alerted state officials who hurriedly started the lockdown.
Officials learned later that the person was actually working shifts at the Woodville Pizza bar in the city and this was the reason for his testing positive. Had he told the truth, the lockdown, a tool widely used by Australia to eradicate the infection, would not have been implemented.
“To say I am fuming is an understatement,” state Premier Steven Marshall told reporters on Friday.
“We are absolutely livid with the actions of this individual and we will be looking very carefully at what consequences there [are] going to be,” Mr Marshall added.
Marshall added that authorities are now working to identify and locate another group of associates of the employee. The state had shut down schools, pubs, coffee shops and outdoor sports. Only essential services, like supermarkets, medical facilities and public transport, remained open.
South Australia Police Commissioner Grant Stevens initially said that the man was unlikely to face charges because there was “no penalty associated with telling lies”.
But he later announced a special task force would be set up to look at the circumstances surrounding the incident and investigate whether any laws were broken.
“This has had a massive impact on our community,” Stevens said. “People’s lives have been upended as a result of information that lead us to a course of action that now was not warranted in the circumstances. We’re now taking action to amend that.”
The lockdown was lifted Saturday after only three new cases were reported Friday.
The state’s outbreak follows neighbouring Victoria’s success in crushing a second wave of coronavirus which caused about 800 deaths.
Victoria has recorded 21 consecutive days of no cases or deaths after its capital, Melbourne, emerged from a strict four-month lockdown. Australia has recorded about 900 deaths and 28,000 infections in total.