South Australia imposed an extremely strict coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday, attracting international attention when residents complained they were denied permission to walk their dogs.
On Friday, embarrassed officials said they would lift the restrictions two days early because they discovered the entire panicked “circuit-breaker” lockdown was triggered by false statements made to contact tracers.
South Australia’s two million residents said they were “shocked” and “angry” when the harsh new lockdown was abruptly imposed after months of zero coronavirus transmissions. A “cluster” of 36 coronavirus infections linked to a returning traveler from the United Kingdom raised concerns from local health officials.
The state went into panic mode when a man who tested positive for Chinese coronavirus told contact tracers he got sick after stopping to buy a pizza at the Woodville Pizza Bar in Adelaide, where several workers had become infected.
Concluding that a highly contagious strain of the virus was leaping from pizzeria employees to their customers, officials declared a six-day lockdown and very literally placed the entire population under house arrest. Only a single person from each household was permitted to leave home and only for a very narrow list of purposes, such as buying groceries. Weddings and funerals were canceled as virtually every business was shut down.
Residents were told they should ask the government for permission to go outside so they could exercise, get a little fresh air, or walk their dogs. To the amazement of both South Australians and observers around the world, the government started telling them “no.”
On Friday, state health officials revealed they had investigated the man whose testimony triggered this draconian reaction, and discovered he lied to the contact tracers. He was actually an employee at the restaurant, not one of the customers, which meant he spends significant amounts of time in the indoor establishment, rather than passing by quickly for a purchase.
“Had this person been truthful to the contact tracing teams, we would not have gone into a six-day lockdown. To say I am fuming is an understatement. The selfish actions of this individual have put our whole state in a very difficult situation,” South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said at a press conference on Friday after the deception was discovered.
“We are absolutely livid with the actions of this individual and we will be looking very carefully at what consequences there [are] going to be,” he added.
Police Commissioner Grant Stevens promptly deflated Marshall’s rage by observing that citizens are legally required to provide information upon request to health officials, but “there is no penalty for failing to answer truthfully those questions.”
Stevens later amended his comments by saying a task force would be established to examine the situation and determine if the dishonest pizzeria employee could be prosecuted for any legal infractions. He also said the police are looking at providing extra security for the Woodville Pizza Bar.
Officials said the six-day lockdown would be terminated two days early, with most restrictions eased by Saturday evening, although they insisted it was still a prudent measure and encouraged patrons of the “hot spot” restaurant to come forward for testing immediately.
Tens of thousands of tests were reportedly performed after the South Australia “outbreak” was declared, but a grand total of only 25 coronavirus cases have been confirmed.