SA Police launch taskforce to investigate pizza worker accused of lying to contact tracers


South Australian police have formed a taskforce to investigate all of the information provided to the state’s coronavirus contact tracing teams.

The head of the taskforce, Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey, said it was clear that at least one person had not told the truth.

He said Taskforce Protect was looking at numerous pieces of legislation which may have been breached, including criminal law, the Emergency Management Act or public health acts.

The taskforce was formed a few hours after it was revealed that a man lied about his job at a pizza bar, sparking the unnecessary lockdown of the entire state of South Australia.

He told contact tracers he was a kitchenhand at the Stamford Plaza medi-hotel in Adelaide’s CBD, and that he had only ordered a pizza from the Woodville Pizza Bar, not that he had also worked there.

Police are keeping watch at the Woodville Pizza Bar in Adelaide’s north-west.(ABC News: Simon Christie)

That information — now proven incorrect — led authorities to believe the state was dealing with a more contagious version of coronavirus than initially thought.

Another man worked as a security guard at both the Peppers Waymouth Hotel and the pizza bar, in Adelaide’s north-west.

South Australia’s planned six-day coronavirus lockdown will now be lifted at midnight on Saturday, after the new information was revealed on Friday morning.

There will be 20 detectives on the taskforce.

Two senior SA Police officers standing at a lectern
South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens and Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey announced the taskforce.(ABC News: Mahalia Carter)

Premier Steven Marshall said police would look at “all and every avenue to throw the book at this person”.

He said the taskforce was set up to “to look at all and every aspect of the evidence that was provided and the consequences that have ensued from there”.

“… The investigation will give us exactly what the infringement was and we will throw the book at the person.”

A man looks over a deserted metropolitan beach from atop some stairs
A man looks over deserted Henley Beach South during lockdown as exercise is once again allowed.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

Neither Police Commissioner Grant Stevens nor Assistant Commissioner Harvey, used the world “lie”, as the Premier had.

But Mr Harvey said police had “a very strong belief that one person has not told the truth”.

Mr Harvey said the investigation would be “thorough and fair” despite the “high emotion” involved.

He would not comment “any other behaviour that may be alleged or suspected” in relation to the owner or managers of the pizza bar, except that it would be investigated.

“I’m confident we’ll get to an answer in a fast time,” he said.

Mr Marshall said he was not sure if the man was a registered employee or whether English was his first language.

He said South Australia’s contact tracers were “better than anywhere” but the Government would look at how the lie got through.

“There’s an issue here, it will be fully investigated and we will get to the bottom of it,” he said.

ABC News has confirmed the pizza bar worker is an adult.



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COVID-19 health experts disagree on whether to issue fines for lying to contact tracers


As South Australian police investigate a pizza worker accused of lying to contact tracers, leading disease experts are at odds over whether penalties should be imposed for deceiving health authorities.

The discovery of the man’s lie prompted South Australian authorities to cut short the state’s lockdown by three days and Premier Steven Marshall vowed to “throw the book” at him.

But there is no specific penalty in South Australia, or anywhere else in the country, for lying to contact tracers.

Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws says that should change immediately.

She said emergency public health orders should be imposed as soon as possible to penalise people for wasting contact tracers’ precious time.

“I do think that there is — particularly for a pandemic — a reasonable expectation that people tell the truth,” she said.

Professor McLaws, an advisor to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the response to COVID-19, said it was “nothing new” for people to lie to health authorities during infectious diseases outbreaks.

The man told authorities he ordered a pizza from the pizza shop when he in fact worked there.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Spence Denny)

It was common in Australia during the HIV epidemic for men to lie about their drug use or sexual activity for fear of ruining their marriages.

She also cited a well-known case during the SARS outbreak, when a man set contact tracers on a wild goose chase because he was too embarrassed to tell them he’d been with a sex worker.

Professor McLaws said any new penalties should come with an undertaking by health authorities that the information provided “remains only between them and their contact tracer … as much as it possibly can”.

But University of Queensland epidemiologist and public health physician Linda Selvey said penalising people was “not the best approach”.

Associate Professor Selvey said good public health practice was to focus less on penalties and more on building relationships and trust with people.

“It means that people are less likely to go to ground.”

The South Australian case sparked a six-day lockdown after the man told contact tracers he had ordered a takeaway from an Adelaide pizza bar.

The information led to quick action with authorities believing the state was dealing with a more contagious version of coronavirus than initially thought.

But when it emerged the man had actually been working at the pizza bar for several shifts, the lockdown was just as quickly cut short.

A Victorian contact tracer, who wished to be known only as Maggie, told the ABC’s The Drum program positive COVID-19 cases mostly lied because they feared getting into trouble.

“If they’re working illegally they might be scared of losing their job, they might be scared of putting the spotlight on their employer,” she said.

“A lot of them are not from Australia [and] we don’t know what their experiences with past governments have been like, so they might be suspicious of governments and not willing to tell the truth out of fear.”

While there are currently no penalties for lying to contact tracers, the public health orders in various states include fines for providing false or misleading documentation during border crossings.

In NSW, for example, an on-the-spot fine of $4,000 can be issued for failing to provide or falsifying information to an enforcement officer.

And several people have faced court in Queensland for crossing the border without disclosing their time in a COVID hot-spot.

South Australian authorities are now searching for laws under which the Adelaide man might be charged.

“The investigation will give us exactly what the infringement was and we will throw the book at this person.”

Mr Marshall acknowledged the need for caution before penalising people for lying to contact tracers.

“The first thing we’ve got to do is determine that an increased penalty won’t actually drive information underground and then not provide public health [authorities] with people coming forward to try to stop the spread of the disease.”

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard did not respond to questions about whether NSW would consider introducing penalties, but referred the ABC to NSW Health.

In a statement, NSW Health said the “overwhelming majority” of people had “fully cooperated” with its 400 contact tracers.

“Our contact tracers appreciate that recalling activities and movements for two weeks prior to testing positive is not an exact science,” the statement said.

It said NSW Health treated all personal information it received from contact tracing confidentially.

“Maintaining this confidentiality is essential to ensure people will continue to present for testing an cooperate with contact tracing, to limit the spread of COVID-19.”



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South Australia 6-day statewide lockdown imposed over 1 person’s ‘LIE’ to contact tracers, authorities admit as they REVOKE order



A new lockdown over South Australia is set to be lifted after officials revealed the restrictions were brought on the basis of a deliberate “lie” told to contact tracers, prompting a “fuming” rebuke from the state executive.

South Australia Premier Steven Marshall announced the explosive finding during a Friday press conference, saying that the individual in question purposely misled contact tracers. Though he told them he had visited a pizza bar linked to a local outbreak only once, he in fact worked at the establishment and had spent several shifts there during the period in question.

“To say I am fuming about the actions of this individual is an absolute understatement,” Marshall said, adding “The selfish actions of this individual have put our whole state in a very difficult situation” and are “completely and utterly unacceptable.”



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Apparently taking the man at his word, health authorities concluded that he must have contracted and spread an ultra-virulent strain of the coronavirus, given the number of other people he infected in what they believed was just a single visit to the Woodville Pizza Bar. As it turns out, he spent far more time there than he first let on, cutting against the idea of a super-infectious strain.

“Their story didn’t add up. We pursued them. We now know that they lied,” Marshall said of the man, who has yet to be identified.

The bizarre mix-up saw the state lurch into an abrupt six-day lockdown – which stiffened restrictions on businesses and gatherings – but just two days into the new measures, they are already set to be relaxed.

“As of midnight Saturday, we will be reverting to a series of restrictions which are very similar to the ones that were imposed at the beginning of this week,” said Police Commissioner Grant Stevens, while Marshal noted most businesses would be allowed to reopen at that point.

The incident has stoked an array of different reactions from residents and commenters online, some demanding to know how the word of a single person could have triggered such a dramatic response, and why authorities didn’t verify his claims before imposing the sweeping measures.

Nick Harmsen, deputy editor at ABC News South Australia, pushed back at the critics, arguing that officials were not at fault and merely “made a decision based on the available facts.” Some remained unconvinced, however, pointing to a lack of transparency from the government about whether the “proper cross checking was done.”

Others directed their rage at the still-unidentified pizza worker, demanding he be “held accountable” for the apparent fib. Marshall, however, said that while the state’s emergency order calls on residents to be truthful with contact tracers, there is no penalty for dishonesty.

Some found it impossible not to poke fun at the debacle, with one netizen suggesting a litany of new names for the now-notorious Woodville Pizza Bar, among them “Die Choking” and “Pepperoni Panic.”

The controversy comes as Australia as a whole approaches 28,000 coronavirus infections, most clustered in the state of Victoria, putting it well below the worst-hit nations. South Australia, for its part, has tallied just 551 cases since the start of the outbreak – three of which were recorded Friday – and only 4 of the country’s 907 fatalities.



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DHHS contact tracers failed to notify coronavirus close contact until end of quarantine period


The text message came through from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) at 12:25pm on August 6.

“Dear Alexander, unless you have been re-exposed to COVID-19 or you are waiting on test results, you are no longer in quarantine.”

The year 12 student and his mother, Anna Perri, were “mortified” — because, they say, they didn’t even know he was supposed to be in quarantine at all.

“It just was a great shock, because it potentially could have put us all at risk,” Ms Perri told ABC Radio Melbourne Mornings.

When Thornbury High School, in Melbourne’s north, was closed in mid-July due to a case of COVID-19, parents were told they would hear from DHHS if their child was required to quarantine.

Mother and son were shocked to receive this text message.(Supplied)

“When we didn’t hear, we believed that we weren’t a close contact, so we went about doing what we normally do under the restrictions,” Ms Perri said.

The family was “shocked and horrified” to learn Alexander was found to be a close contact two weeks after he had been exposed to the virus.

“We should have known immediately so we could take appropriate steps,” Ms Perri said.

“The thought that he could have put me at risk — or other people at risk — was really distressing for him and for me.”

At today’s daily update, Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said contact tracers had been able to get the message out to “virtually 100 per cent” of close contacts within 48 hours.

“When cases are at 50 a day or 50 a week, everyone in the world was doing contact tracing to the nth degree,” Mr Sutton said.

“When you’ve got 300, 400 cases a day, that stretches any system anywhere in the world.

“We are doing much better than a whole bunch of countries that gave up on contact tracing.”

Meanwhile, Sarah, who shares a house with a positive coronavirus case in Glen Iris, called the ABC to say she had also had problems with contact tracers.

“We are now on day 10 of our quarantine and isolation, however only two of [my housemates’] close contacts have been contacted by DHHS,” she told Virginia Trioli.

“Every day I am sitting by the phone waiting to be contacted to get the right information.

“[I have] received no information about how to properly quarantine or anything, other than what I’ve researched myself.”

She said she was “worried and frustrated” by the lack of information.

“Whenever I’ve called the [coronavirus] hotline, I’ve been given different information or been sent in circles with numbers that don’t connect to anywhere.”



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missing data creates challenges for contact tracers


The call tracing hit-rate has been terrible in the US and British isles. Is it any improved in Victoria and NSW?

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Image: AAP /David Crosling)

How lots of regarded shut contacts of COVID-19 carriers in Victoria and NSW are notified by govt tracing teams?

The solution could appear self-evident — all of them — but if the knowledge of other international locations is something to go by, several shut contacts may possibly be slipping through the gaps of the tracing process.

In England, a quarter of folks referred to Nationwide Health Provider (NHS) tracers can’t be arrived at due to a mix of unanswered calls and incorrect make contact with aspects. Of referrals who are successfully interviewed, close to a third of the near contacts they supply to tracers are also proving extremely hard to come across.





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