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A lie and a pizza shop: Why Australian officials reversed a lockdown

It was the lie that started a lockdown – and it hung on a pizza connection.

After dozens of coronavirus cases surfaced this week in the state of South Australia, the government quickly squeezed down and issued cumbersome home orders. Masks were mandatory. Restaurants, cafes, pubs and retail stores were closed along with schools.

But officials abruptly turned the course two days later, saying on Friday that the infected person had “deliberately misled” a contact tracking team in the city of Adelaide. It all came down to his relationship with a pizza shop.

It turned out that the person at Woodville Pizza Bar was not a customer, as he had told contact trackers, but a part-time employee and a close contact with another coronavirus patient who also worked in the restaurant. This matters because health officials initially feared that the newly infected man had only contracted the virus from a short-term exposure, which they thought could indicate a virulent strain.

South Australia’s top official, Steven Marshall, told reporters on Friday that given the new information, the state lockdown would end three days earlier than planned.

“To say that I am fumbling about this person’s actions is an absolute understatement,” he said.

Schools, restaurants and gyms were to reopen, but new rules include a ceiling of 50 people at funerals and a ban on dancing at weddings. Sir. Marshall said contact trackers still needed “breathing space” to continue investigating the source of the outbreak, the state’s hardest for months.

Contact tracking is considered an important tool to help limit the spread of coronavirus. Places like South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have combined technology and data with old-fashioned detective work to track down people who may have crossed paths with an infected person.

However, such systems can fall apart when governments fail to support citizens through cumbersome quarantines. Or in this case, when the person being tracked misleads the trackers.

After a woman tested positive for coronavirus at a hospital in Adelaide, health officials found that she had received it from her daughter, a cleaning assistant at a hotel in the city center was used to quarantine Australians returning from abroad, the country’s national television reported. station Friday. The cluster was later expanded to include two security guards at the hotel, one of whom worked part-time at Woodville Pizza Bar.

The man, who lied to contacts, said he had bought takeaway from the restaurant and declined to tell them he was in close contact with one of the infected guards.

“It clearly changes the circumstances, and if this person had been truthful to the contact tracking teams, we would not have been in a six-day shutdown,” Grant Stevens, South Australia’s police commissioner, told reporters on Friday.

Another consequence, he said, was that police were now in a hurry to identify and locate the man’s employees – a process that would not have been necessary if he had initially told the truth.

The man will not be punished because there is no legal mechanism to prosecute him, Stevens said. Police have not said anything about why he may have chosen to mislead the contact traces.

Neighboring Victoria said on Friday it had decided to close the border with southern Australia but that the rule would not apply to truck drivers or rescue workers.

Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, lifted one of the world’s longest lockdowns in late October. The city said Friday it planned to allow inbound international flights to resume from Dec. 7 with an initial cap of 160 passengers a day.

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