Police have seized mobile phones used by a pizza bar worker whose lie about how he contracted coronavirus put South Australia into strict lockdown.
Residents across the state were stuck in their homes for three days in Australia’s strictest lockdown since the pandemic began, but it was all due to the 36-year-old Spanish man’s attempt to disguise how he contracted the virus.
Rather than disclosing he worked at the Woodville Pizza Bar in Adelaide’s inner north-west, he claimed to be a customer and that the virus must have been caught off the pizza box, raising fears it could have been similarly transmitted to hundreds of other customers.
In fact the man had worked in close contact with another pizza bar worker who also worked at a quarantine hotel.
Specialist detectives from Task Force Protect have seized devices from the Spanish man as part of their investigation into the Parafield coronavirus cluster.
More than 4,500 people across the state linked to the Parafield cluster are in quarantine, with 21 close contacts linked to the pizza bar.
SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier on Sunday said the 21 close contacts had been tested for COVID-19, but their results were not yet known, ABC reported.
Four people with links to the pizza bar were also admitted to a medi-hotel on Saturday night.
The Parafield cluster closed several restaurants, retail stores and cafes for two days, with many reopening on Sunday.
There were 37 active cases of coronavirus in South Australia on Sunday and authorities are urging anyone with minor symptoms to go and get tested.
‘Please follow those instructions because this is a pretty critical time for us in South Australia to make sure that we’re locking all of those end parts of these chains down,’ Professor Spurrier said.
No new cases were recorded at the Anglicare aged care facility in Brompton.
Police issued 337 cautions and 157 fines for alleged breaches of lockdown measures.
In a statement, South Australia Police asked the community to stay vigilant in the fight against the deadly disease.
‘We implore the South Australian community to continue to do the right thing as police and numerous other departments across the state continue their efforts against COVID-19,’ they said.
Health officials’ initial belief that the Spanish man had contracted the virus from a pizza box touched by an infected worker had led to fears that a super strain of the virus had been unleashed in the city.
That prompted health officials to impose one of the world’s toughest lockdowns at midnight on Wednesday.
However when it emerged that he was a close contact of the quarantine hotel worker, fears of the super strain ended and the initial six-day lockdown period was cut to just three, and was lifted at midnight on Saturday.
The pizza bar worker was identified as a 36-year-old Spanish man whose visa is due to expire next month.
Police Commissioner Grant Stevens revealed on Saturday morning he had also worked as a kitchen hand at the Stamford Hotel and was in Australia on a temporary graduate visa that’s due to expire in mid December.
The commissioner said although the employee’s actions had an ‘unbelievable impact’ on South Australians, there was no penalty for lying and he won’t yet be charged or fined.
‘The emergency management act requires people to provide information on request. There is no penalty for failing to truthfully answer those questions,’ he said.
Task Force Protect has been set up to investigate any alleged criminal activity before and after advice was given by SA Health in the lead up to the lockdown.
The 20-strong team will determine whether any other legislation had been breached in relation to the 36-year-old, who may be deported back to Spain pending the results of the investigation.
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said he could not speculate on the status of the man in question while the investigation is ongoing.
‘We think the people of South Australia deserve some answers on this and we will look at every opportunity for there to be some consequences for this person,’ he told ABC’s Morning Breakfast on Monday.
‘It is really important that when a public health official asks you questions you provide them with accurate information otherwise lives can be at stake.
‘There’s been a lot of on that (his motives for lying). I don’t want to add to that because there is an investigation under way.’
The strict lockdown imposed on the state ended three days early at midnight on Saturday, with millions of residents immediately let out to exercise.
‘To say I am fuming about the actions of this individual is an absolute understatement,’ Mr Marshall said.
‘This 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.’
The revelation about the worker came as the Parafield cluster climbed to 26 infections on Saturday.
Mr Marshall announced on Saturday that his government wasn’t looking to compensate businesses that had been affected from the lockdown.
He said they were instead focused on easing restrictions to how they were before the recent outbreak, which saw a boost in employment.
‘In fact, South Australia was doing so well that we had more people employed in October than we had in January, February this year,’ he said.
The premier said that while he was ‘delighted’ with the easing of restrictions, he warned the state that they weren’t yet ‘out of the woods’.
‘We are still managing a very dangerous cluster,’ he said.
Prof Spurrier said that had it not been for the quick thinking of a young doctor who tested the first case, the outbreak may not have been known for weeks.
‘She’s done a fantastic job,’ she told reporters on Saturday.
‘She was on the ball, she knew what she had to do. She heard this person cough a couple of times and thought they’re not getting away without having a swab’.
Police were seen patrolling outside the Woodville Pizza Bar on Friday afternoon amid fears the shopfront would be vandalised due to anger over its role in triggering the lockdown.
Many took to the restaurant’s Facebook page to post vile messages, some calling for those responsible to be charged.
‘How utterly ashamed you should all be. Hope you sleep well at night knowing what you’ve done,’ one wrote.
‘You lied and caused the harshest lockdown the world has seen so far .. imagine that,’ another said.
‘Your the worst someone can get. I hope your business shuts down forever and never sells another pizza again. Burn in hell. You knew they lied so that makes you just as bad. Adelaide’s lowest of lows,’ commented another.
South Australia will revert to a series of similar restrictions imposed at the beginning of the week from midnight on Saturday.
Venues are allowed to have 100 guests, with one person per four square metres and table bookings limited to 10.
Funerals will restart with 50 people in attendance, while weddings can host 150 guests. There will be no dancing.
Religious ceremonies will be restricted to 100 people and 10 people can come together for private gatherings.
Masks are mandatory for hairdressers and beauty therapists but residents will no longer be required to wear a face covering when in public.
Gyms will also open as restrictions ease at 11.59pm on Saturday and students will return to school on Monday.
From Friday, households will now be allowed to exercise in groups.