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SA lockdown decision embarrasses Premier

South Australia’s Premier Steven Marshall is facing criticism over the state’s harsh lockdown with the situation being described as a “farce”. Mr Marshall was forced into an embarrassing backdown after it was revealed on Friday a Spanish man on a graduate visa had lied to contact tracers about working at a pizza shop.The Premier said…

South Australia’s Premier Steven Marshall is facing criticism over the state’s harsh lockdown with the situation being described as a “farce”.

Mr Marshall was forced into an embarrassing backdown after it was revealed on Friday a Spanish man on a graduate visa had lied to contact tracers about working at a pizza shop.

The Premier said he was “fuming” that the lie had forced the state into an unnecessary lockdown, which was later reversed.

But ABC political editor Andrew Probyn told Insiders on Sunday morning the incident may also have exposed the authorities’ own over-reaction.

“He is furious because he was humiliated,” Mr Probyn said.

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Probyn said “what happened in South Australia is a farce”, but that’s not all.

“It is also a really serious public health matter because the next time that a crisis is called, guess what? The public response might be less trusting,” Mr Probyn argued.

“Having a situation where one lie told by a bloke who works at pizza joint could close down an entire state without his story being properly prosecuted is enormous.”

He added there were also doubts over claims from state politicians and medical officials that they were dealing with some sort of new strain of the virus, which was another serious matter that could impact public trust.

“As farcical as it has been, good on the people of South Australia who live with it and enjoy your new freedoms from later on today,” Mr Probyn said.

At a press conference a couple hours after Insiders aired on Sunday morning, the Premier and the state’s chief health officer Nicola Spurrier shared further information on the modelling that led to the lockdown and the scary numbers that indicated a possibly catastrophic second wave.

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“I have no regrets on my advice and decision-making last week. I‘ve no doubt it was the right thing to do,” Professor Spurrier said.

While the virus’ reproduction number (the number of people someone who gets the virus typically passes it on to) had spent a “reasonable period of time” at 1.3, Prof Spurrier said she was given estimates last week as new cases were recorded of the reproduction number “sitting well above two and it could have been as high as four”.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, leader of the only state to open up to the entire country, said she wouldn’t have brought in the same lockdown in a similar situation but could understand why South Australia did.

“We’re in a different position. New South Wales has had probably much longer and a bigger challenge than any other state: We’re the most populous state, we welcome back the most overseas travellers so we had the most practice at it, and I can appreciate some of the smaller states haven’t and that’s a matter for them,” Ms Berejiklian said.

She said someone contracting coronavirus from a pizza box was believable however.

“We can‘t underestimate how contagious the virus is, you can actually get it from surfaces. We know that in a few cases in NSW, people actually did have it from touching common surfaces, so that is a reality.”

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WHY WOULD THE “PIZZA GUY” LIE?

Police have spoken to the man at the centre of the Woodville Pizza Bar debacle as well as seizing electronic devices as a task force of 20 officers investigate, and while some have said they can’t fathom why he would have lied to contact tracers, others suggested financial pressures might have played a part.

Again on Insiders, the federal Labor member for the Victorian seat of Gorton Brendan O’Connor said the situation demonstrated the importance of people telling the truth to contact tracers, but there were other lessons to be learned too.

“I think it shows that if you don‘t provide sufficient support, people are more likely to lie. It is interesting that this worker may have been on a temporary visa because they were excluded from not only JobKeeper, but Jobseeker. We have had hundreds of thousands of temporary visa applicants who don’t have any support in a recession where employers won’t choose to employ them,” Mr O’Connor said.

Insiders panellist Peter van Onselen agreed and said something needed to be done about workers in hotel quarantine continuing to work elsewhere.

“The idea that you can have hotel quarantine workers who are part-time essentially and therefore, underpaid and they’re off getting work in other fields. You can’t deny someone who is in part-time employment from working elsewhere and that just becomes an added risk that the virus spreads.”

He didn’t back the SA Labor opposition’s call for an end to hotel quarantine however, saying other methods were generally more risky or more punitive, but said Victoria had already shown what could be done.

“Victoria moved to a scenario where you couldn’t have employment elsewhere as a security guard or anyone working in hotel quarantine. Other states should have learnt from that and the difference in rhetoric has just been astounding.”

SA recorded only one new case on Sunday morning, which came from a woman returning from overseas.

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