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SA to lift lockdown early after pizza bar lie misled officials

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South Australia will lift its hard six-day lockdown early on Saturday night, after it was revealed in an extraordinary press conference that a “selfish” infectious person “deliberately” lied about his work at a pizza bar – but authorities say he can’t be fined or penalised for misleading health officials and sending the entire state into shutdown.

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People are allowed to exercise outside their home with other members of their household effective immediately, while caps on gatherings and venues will lift from midnight Saturday and schools will reopen on Monday.

From Saturday night, weddings, funerals and religious gatherings will no longer be banned, but they will have limits on the number of attendees, while gyms can open on the weekend.

State emergency coordinator and SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said restrictions would be returned to how they were in the state before the lockdown was imposed, with a one person per four-square-metre social distancing requirement.

In a bombshell announcement about the lockdown lift late this morning, Premier Steven Marshall said he was “fuming” after being told an infectious person – a kitchenhand who works at the Stamford Hotel – lied to health authorities about working “several shifts” at the Woodville Pizza Bar coronavirus hotspot.

He instead told authorities during contact tracing interviews that he bought a pizza from the shop.

In doing so, the man – who contracted the virus from another infectious part-time worker at the pizza bar – sent South Australia into lockdown yesterday, as authorities were concerned they could not find a discernible link between his case and any of the other positive cases in the so-called Parafield cluster.

The lie was revealed during further SA Health contact tracing interviews.

“What those investigations showed was that one of the close contacts linked to the Woodville Pizza Bar deliberately misled our contact tracing team,” Marshall said.

“Their story didn’t add up, we pursued them, we now know that they lied.

“I will not let the disgraceful conduct of a single individual to keep South Australia in these circuit-breaker conditions one day longer than what is necessary, however, this lie still means that our contact tracers need breathing space to contact people – but not for as long.”

Marshall said health authorities were currently trying to locate “thousands of people” who may have had “dangerous” contact at the Woodville Pizza Bar.

He said now that the lie has been revealed, authorities need to find and isolate “a whole new group of associates”.

Had he been truthful to the contact tracing team we would not have gone into a six-day lockdown

The Government will boost its contact tracing resources so that it can find and isolate all new close contacts as soon as possible, before Saturday night.

“To say that I am fuming about the actions of this individual is an absolute understatement,” he said.

“The selfish actions of this individual have put our whole state in a very difficult situation.

“His actions have affected businesses, individuals , family groups and is completely and utterly unacceptable.”

SA Premier Steven Marshall said he been left “fuming”. Photo: David Mariuz/AAP

But police have no powers to charge the man for misleading authorities.

“The Emergency Management Act requires people to provide information on request – there is no penalty for failing to truthfully answer those questions,” Stevens said, describing the man’s actions as having a “devastating impact”.

“There is simply no mechanism for us to actually take further action.”

However, he said the situation and regulations concerned were now being reviewed.

It is also unclear whether the owner of the pizza bar also misled officials by failing to tell them that the man was an employee.

“This is a quickly-moving series of events,” Stevens said.

“My team will be looking at whether there are any mechanisms whatsoever.”

It comes after nine people were fined yesterday for breaching lockdown restrictions, including two people who were spotted at the beach and seven people who attended a party in the Adelaide CBD last night.

Stevens said the Government would review the state’s COVID-19 response and legislation, with penalties for people who mislead authorities to be considered.

He refused to tell reporters today why the man lied to health authorities, but said the rationale would be revealed “an an appropriate time”.

One lie puts the whole state at risk

Asked if he would apologise to the people of South Australia for disrupting their lives by sending them into lockdown, Stevens said government authorities acted according to the health advice at the time.

“To suggest that we owe the community an apology would be suggesting that we did something wrong,” he said.

“We acted in the best interests of the community based on the information that was available to us.

“I think everybody regrets the actions that we’ve had to take – hindsight is a fantastic thing (and) if this person had been honest with us from the outset we would not be where we are today.

“Had he been truthful to the contact tracing team we would not have gone into a six-day lockdown.”

A police unit is sitting outside the pizza bar this afternoon, to discourage vigilante behaviour.

Local resident Ashley Williams said she had bought food there from time to time and described it as a “pretty good business”.

“It just sucks for them – for the whole city,” she said.

“One lie puts the whole state at risk – it sucks.”

Restrictions

Effective immediately, people are allowed to leave their house to exercise alone or with other members of their household.

As of midnight Saturday, South Australia will revert to restrictions similar to those imposed at the beginning of this week.

They include:

The Government is aiming to return to the level of restrictions that were in place last Friday by December.

New cases

There were three new COVID-19 cases reported today – all of which are linked to the Parafield cluster and were already in quarantine when tested positive.

Two of the cases were family members of one of the Peppers medi-hotel security guards who tested positive last weekend, while the third works at the AnglicareSA Brompton residential aged care home.

The number of positive cases linked to the aged care facility is now at four.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” SA chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said.

“We still have a significant number of close contacts and contacts of close contacts – because we are doing that double ring-fencing or sandbagging around everybody who is a case.”

SA Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier says the state is not out of the woods yet. Photo: David Mariuz/AAP

Spurrier warned that health authorities were expecting the number of positive coronavirus cases in South Australia to rise over the next couple of days.

“Because we got so early in the beginning of this cluster and had people put in quarantine, when we first tested them they hadn’t actually become positive.

“We will be expecting that to happen now over the next couple of days.”

There are now 25 cases linked to the Parafield cluster, but only two in hospital after one of the 80-year-old cases was discharged overnight.

There are a further 44 “suspected cases” of people who came in close contact with positive cases but have returned initial negative tests.

There are almost 4500 close contacts or contacts of close contacts in 14-day quarantine.

In total, South Australia has 37 active cases and 553 cases since the start of the pandemic.

SA Health initially reported 23 cases linked to the cluster yesterday, but it revised that figure down to 22 late in the afternoon after one person, who initially tested positive for coronavirus one week ago, was reclassed as a negative case.

Victoria today reported no new coronavirus cases, one day after it imposed a hard border closure with South Australia.

It comes after Victorian authorities detected fragments of COVID-19 in wastewater in the regional towns of Benalla and Portland, which are along freight corridors.

SA business owners “let down”

In a statement released after this morning’s press conference, Business SA CEO Martin Haese said the pizza shop worker’s lie had brought the state’s economy “to its knees”.

“This is a cluster thud,” he said.

“A three-day shutdown of the entire State will cost businesses many millions of dollars.”

The lobby group is calling on the State Government to bring forward pre-cluster restrictions “as soon as possible”, to get the economy back on track.

It also wants a compensation package for businesses who have suffered measurable financial loss during the three-day shutdown, such as food wastage

“South Australian business owners have been let down,” their statement said.

But SA Property Council executive director Daniel Gannon said the lockdown was “tough by necessary”.

“Today’s development will obviously give rise to debate about whether the lockdown announced on Wednesday was an over-reaction given its economic and social impact,” he said.

“While the lockdown has caused disruption to our business and personal lives, authorities were acting on what they considered to be the best information available to them.”

Locations on alert

SA Health added two new locations to its list of alerts late this afternoon – Coles, Churchill Shopping Centre at Kilburn on Saturday November 14 from 10.00am to 10.20am and Woolworths Findon on Friday November 13 from 8.50pm to 9.00pm.

If you visited those locations during the listed times, you do not need to self-quarantine but you should monitor for symptoms and get tested immediately if symptoms appear.

Testing

Health workers at the Victoria Park drive-through testing site yesterday. Photo: David Mariuz/AAP

There were 14,459 tests conducted yesterday.

Wait times at testing clinics have reduced significantly this morning following hours-long queues earlier in the week.

SA Health reported this morning that there was no line up at the Victoria Park drive-through testing site, which is open until midnight tonight.

The site will open again from 8am to 6pm tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a new testing clinic has opened at Gawler Sport and Community Centre in Nixon Terrace.

That site will be open every day from 10am to 6pm. No bookings or referrals are needed.

Additional reporting by Tom Richardson

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