A 36-year-old Spanish man in SA on a graduate visa – set to expire next month – was accused by Premier Steven Marshall of “lying” to contact tracers, with Police Commissioner Grant Stevens insisting a statewide stay-at-home order would not have been implemented but for the misinformation.
Authorities initially believed the man, who also worked in the kitchen of the Stamford medi-hotel, had ordered a takeaway pizza from the pizza bar – a key location in the outbreak of the so-called Parafield COVID cluster – but later discovered he had worked several shifts there.
This prompted Stevens to announce the formation of a major police taskforce, saying at the time it would be “investigating all the circumstances relating to the information that was provided to contact tracing teams and circumstances which led to us being in the position we are now”.
Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey said he had been “asked by the Commissioner to conduct an investigation into the circumstances leading up to information provided to and utilised by SA Health in making decisions in relation to the impact of the directions have been issued”.
“We have a very strong belief that at least one person has not told the truth… the obligation on me is to investigate that further,” he told reporters at the time.
However, recent breaches have prompted a very different approach, with a teenager who contracted the virus – also in connection with the Woodville Pizza Bar – and attended school last week defended by Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier as having done “absolutely nothing wrong”.
“The fact she got herself tested I’m so pleased about… she’s followed the directions within her understanding of what she needed to do,” Spurrier said last week.
Another man who returned a positive test yesterday had since revealed he visited several shops while SA Health initially claimed he was supposed to be in home quarantine last week, with Spurrier declaring: “What I am actually grateful for is that they were forthcoming with this information.”
“There are certainly quite steep penalties for breaking quarantine but the decision to do that enforcement is over to the police,” she said yesterday.
But Spurrier’s deputy Dr Emily Kirkpatrick told ABC Radio this morning that “certainly he was under the impression he was doing the right thing and could be out and about”, while Stevens, asked on FIVEaa if police would take action against him, said: “Time will tell… we do have to assess the information.”
SA Health today revealed he had not been given specific advice to do anything beyond self-isolating and getting two COVID tests – the first of which returned negative.
The lawyer representing the Woodville worker – Scott Jelbert, Principal of Camena Legal and Migration – told InDaily today he was “watching that one closely”, to see how authorities proceeded.
“I’m watching it closely because I think it might be fruitful for my client’s purposes,” he said.
“I already sense a double standard in other respects… I’m concerned about [the Government’s] approach with my client.”
He revealed the man’s wife is still quarantined – but his client has now been released from the medi-hotel in which he was isolating.
“We’re still waiting for confirmation of whether my client will be charged with anything,” he said.
“There’s still an ongoing investigation so it’s hard for me to comment much further.”
However, he did argue that the Government’s public rhetoric had “effectively conflated two separate issues into one”.
“They sold it to the public that my client lied and because of that lie we went into a lockdown,” he said.
“Unfortunately the public bought that [but] I’m instructed a lot of the information is not correct.
“It will be important to separate the two issues – did my client make a representation and did he know that to be false? A separate issue that the Government has packaged with that – and caused people to draw their own inferences – is what was the basis or the bases on which the Government elected to go into a lockdown?”
The Government has since toned down its rhetoric in relation to the lockdown, insisting there were a range of factors considered and that the alleged “lie” was instead “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
Jelbert said the implication given at the time was that “they believed my client contacted the virus through a pizza box and there was a fear of a mutated strain that could be contracted simply through a pizza box”, but that after the alleged misinformation was discovered “they thought ‘perhaps this is isn’t as virulent as we thought”.
“But since then a high school student contracted the virus from [potentially] being a customer, which begs the question – just what strain was this virus? Did they really know?” he said.
He also repeated his concerns that authorities had released detailed information about his client, including his age and nationality, but refused to confirm details of other cases, citing confidentiality.
“I certainly want to wait and let the SA Police make the first step, if they’re going to,” Jelbert said.
“Or at least confirm if they’re going to do anything, because if they’re not that will pave the way for me to advise my client on what he may be entitled to do.
“I just haven’t been updated as to where that investigation is… I would have hoped that I of all people potentially would be.”
He said police were playing their cards “very close” in relation to the inquiry, “which of course only causes more conspiracy round its purpose”.
He said his client hoped to remain in SA after his current visa expired, but that “under migration law if a person is charged with a criminal offence, that’s enough to potentially have their visa refused”.
“You don’t have to be convicted of a criminal offence to have an application refused,” he said.
“I won’t comment as to whether he has or hasn’t applied for another form of visa [but] it was clearly stated his visa is soon due to expire – so it potentially compromises his ability to stay in Australia if a charge alone is enough [to refuse an application].”
He said his client’s English was “not fluent but very good”.
“I’m able to take instructions directly,” he said.
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