The worker at Adelaide’s Woodville Pizza Bar who allegedly lied to contact tracers about not working there – thus plunging all of South Australia into a sudden and extreme lockdown – won’t be charged because there’s not enough evidence.
The man had told contact tracers that he had just been to the restaurant to pick up an order, leading health authorities to believe that the cluster was much more severe than it really was. A police taskforce with 20 detectives was then established to find out what went wrong.
Suddenly, people started hounding the 36-year-old Spanish national, who wasn’t even able to keep up with what was being said about him because police had confiscated his phone and other devices. Meanwhile, South Australian Premier Steven Marshall promised to “throw the book” at him.
Regardless of whether what the worker did was right or wrong, he won’t be getting charged, no matter what the Premier threatened.
“Based on the limited evidence available for presentation to a court, the matter would not likely succeed or progress,” Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey told reporters.
“Based on that advice, no criminal charge will be laid by the taskforce investigators against the male suspect at the centre of investigation.
“From a criminal investigation perspective, this matter is complete.”
First of all, there is no specific penalty in South Australia (or in any other state) for lying to health authorities, so the man wasn’t automatically in trouble for allegedly lying.
At the same time, SA Health refused to hand over details of its conversations with the Woodville Pizza Bar worker to police.
That’s an important boundary which health authorities can’t break in order to maintain the trust of the public. If people could get in trouble from what they tell their doctor, for example, we’d have a lot more people lying about their health.
Finally, it’s cruel to blame the rash reaction of an entire state (and the apparent flaws in its contact tracing fact verification) on the mistake of a single private individual.
Yes, those few days when South Australia was in a strict lockdown sucked and were unnecessary. But the world hasn’t ended, and getting people in trouble over something they’ve already apologised for will just make people less likely to fess up to their mistakes in future.