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Former pizza worker set to stay in SA - for now

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The Spanish man accused by South Australian authorities of sparking last month’s lockdown will remain in the state for the foreseeable future, his lawyer says, despite his visa renewal application being still under review.

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The 36-year-old, who worked in both the Stamford medi-hotel and the Woodville Pizza Bar, was accused by Premier Steven Marshall of “lying” to SA Health contact tracers about his employment situation, with Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens declaring that “had this person been truthful to the contact tracing teams, we would not have gone into a six-day lockdown”.

The man, through his lawyer Scott Jelbert, has expressed “extreme remorse” for his role but insisted some of the Government’s commentary “is not fair, accurate or complete”.

This was later underlined by SA health CEO Chris McGowan, who disputed the suggestion that last month’s COVID outbreak at the pizza bar was caused by medi-hotel staff working multiple jobs.

“There’s some things about that which I can’t say, that aren’t public,” he told InDaily at the time.

Jelbert told InDaily today his married client’s graduate visa expired yesterday, and he was now on an automatic bridging visa as he awaited a decision on his application for a formal extension.

“He applied for a new visa a long time ago, before all this happened,” he said.

He’s applied for an extended visa [which] should only take two to three months, and we’re within that timeframe still.”

Jelbert said if the application was not successful “he has automatic review rights” as “he applied onshore”.

He said such reviews generally take “12 to 18 months to go through the system” so “he’s not leaving Australia any time in the next one to two years”.

He said the man had not been able to work since last month’s drama, saying “there’s issues with respect to his employment as a result of all this that I have to work out as well”.

The Woodville Pizza Bar has since reopened, with its owner declining to comment when contacted by InDaily, claiming there was “no point” to having his views reported in the media.

He said the pizzeria continued to be supported by “loyal customers”.

It comes as the state’s transition committee was today briefed by Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier on an engineering report into the likely impact of “poor ventilation” in the corridors of the Peppers medi-hotel in the spread of the virus that prompted last month’s cluster.

Two security guards and a cleaner from the hotel were infected despite having no obvious interaction with the quarantined traveller believed to have brought the disease into SA, while a separate couple who later arrived from Nepal were also infected while staying in the facility.

Stevens told media today there was still “other work being done in relation to the Peppers and as soon as that’s been done we’ll be briefed”, but said it was a matter for SA health as to whether any of the reports were publicly released.

A statement from Spurrier reiterates her belief that “reduced ventilation within the corridors may have contributed to the transmission of infection”, but asked whether authorities now believed that was the cause of the cluster, Stevens said: “I don’t think anybody can be absolutely definitive.”

“My understanding is that Prof Spurrier said it was most likely the case that it was poor ventilation in the corridors that was the major contributing factor,” he said.

Asked whether Peppers, which is currently empty, would continue to be used for hotel quarantine, Stevens said it “depends on whether it can meet the infection control requirements”.

“One of the challenges is that hotels are not designed to have well-ventilated corridors,” he said.

“People don’t spend a lot of time in corridors, so it’s about putting other strategies in place to mitigate that risk of people being exposed to the virus by being in corridors for extended periods… and that may be using technology, as opposed to physical security guards sitting in those sorts of locations.”

Stevens maintained that “the infection control mechanisms in the Pullman Hotel” – currently being used as an interim base for COVID-positive travellers – “are certainly adequate for the purposes it’s being used for”.

The transition committee made no further changes to SA restrictions today, with Stevens suggesting next week’s meeting would likely consider some minor easing to be rolled out in the new year.

“If I were to forecast I’d say we’re looking into January before we’d see any changes – and I don’t think any changes we’d see going forward are going to be significant,” he said.

“I think we’re in a pretty good spot in terms of finding that balance with having an ability to respond to COVID-19 but having social and economic activity occur as much as possible.”

He said more than 45,00 businesses had signed on to new QR code technology, while the Government’s MySA Gov app had been accessed by more than 900,000 individual mobile phones.

“With a population of 1.7 million people – and you probably take away 300,000 people based on age demographics… all of these are very promising signs,” he said.

“Generally we’re seeing people trying to do the right thing.”

The state recorded no new coronavirus cases in its daily update this morning.

A positive case from a new arrival returned yesterday is no longer an active case.

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