An entire state was shut down because a pizza shop employee lied to officials.
South Australia was placed in the toughest coronavirus confinement, but after contact tracers falsely gave the impression that a man was infected with a highly contagious virus with a much shorter incubation time.
In a shocking announcement, Prime Minister Steven Marshall said the six-day strict lockdown would be lifted earlier than expected, Saturday at midnight, as the virus was not as contagious as initially thought.
Marshall reiterated that it was still a “dangerous” cluster with 25 infections and about 4,500 close contacts in quarantine.
A guard at a quarantine hotel, who also worked part-time at Woodville Pizza Bar, in the state capital of Adelaide, was infected by a returning traveler from the UK.
A second worker at another quarantine hotel in the city was also infected, not identified by name by the authorities.
Authorities said the man told the contact tracers that he only bought a pizza from the same bar, when they later found out that he worked in different shifts there.
Authorities believed he contracted the virus from a very brief exposure while buying pizza, leading them to believe he must have been exposed to a highly contagious strain.
“If this person had been honest with the contact investigation teams, we wouldn’t have ended up in a six-day lockdown,” Marshall told a news conference in Adelaide on Friday.
The contact tracers now need to find and isolate a whole new group of people who have interacted with the man.
“It is imperative that we act quickly over the next 24-36 hours to identify and locate these people, so we know we have eliminated the risk of this particular species spreading further into the community,” added Marshall.
The contact tracking team sat down and interviewed the employee.
Another team looked at the information obtained in the interview but were not satisfied with “the feeling they got from it,” South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said at the conference.
The review team went back to interview the man again, who eventually revealed that he worked several shifts in the pizza bar.
Prime Minister Marshall said it was not yet clear what the motivation of the man was.
“There is simply no mechanism for us to actually take further action,” said Marshall.
Authorities are still trying to track down thousands of people who may have had “dangerous contact” at Woodville Pizza Bar.
Nicola Spurrier, the state’s chief public health official, also warned that the number of cases in South Australia will increase in the coming days, although those individuals are already in isolation and pose no threat to the wider community.