South Australia is to lift a strict six-day coronavirus lockdown early, saying the curbs were imposed after a man who tested positive misled contact tracers about his activities.
The shock announcement came just two days after the state government ordered people to stay at home and closed businesses to combat what it thought was a highly contagious outbreak of coronavirus.
The state premier, Steven Marshall, told a media conference in Adelaide that a man at a pizza bar linked to the outbreak had “deliberately misled” contact tracers, telling them he had only bought a pizza there, when he had actually worked several shifts at the outlet alongside another worker who tested positive.
The lie led the authorities to assume the man had caught the virus during a very short exposure, suggesting the strain was highly contagious.
“Their (the man’s) story didn’t add up. We pursued them. We now know that they lied,” Marshall told reporters.
“To say I am fuming about the actions of this individual is an absolute understatement. This selfish actions of this individual have put our whole state in a very difficult situation.”
While the outbreak was still worrying, Marshall said restrictions would be lifted early with a stay-at-home order ending at midnight on Saturday when most businesses would also be allowed to open.
Asked what punishment the individual might face, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said there was “no penalty” for lying to tracers under the current law, although that was likely to be reviewed.
“I think it is stating the obvious to say that this person’s actions has had a devastating impact on our community,” said Stevens. “The hardship is not lost on us.”
Stevens would not be drawn on the man’s motivation for misleading contact tracers.
On Wednesday, authorities ordered schools, shops, pubs, factories and even takeaway restaurants to close and stay-at-home orders were issued for residents across the state of about 1.8 million people.
Since then, however, tens of thousands of tests have shown no new community transmission and the cluster has come to only 25 cases, leading to accusations that authorities overreacted.
People in Adelaide, the state capital, and the rest of South Australia, will be able to leave their homes immediately for exercise, and most other restrictions will be eased late on Saturday.
The number of new cases in the state is still expected to rise during the next few days.
Australia as a whole has been relatively successful in containing the virus with only about 95 cases currently active.
The state of Victoria on Friday reported its 21st day of zero cases, following a marathon lockdown of the country’s second-largest city, Melbourne.