When Steven Marshall chaired a press conference on Friday to give an update on the second day of the harsh state lockdown, his tone was grim. Someone had lied to a contact tracker, he said, which meant that the strict state lockdown had been unnecessary.
“To say that I am furious at the actions of this individual is an absolute understatement,” said the Prime Minister of South Australia. “The selfish actions of this individual have put our entire state in a very difficult situation. His actions have affected companies, individuals, family groups and it is totally and absolutely unacceptable. “
In Marshall’s eyes, the facts were simple: A security guard at Adelaide’s Peppers medi-hotel was infected with Covid-19. They also worked at Woodville Pizza Bar in town.
A second worker at another medi-hotel, the Stamford, had also been infected. Marshall said the worker lied “deliberately”, telling contract trackers that he had only asked the restaurant, when in fact he had been working there. This alleged lie led the authorities to believe that the cluster was much more widespread and infectious than it actually was, leading them to impose the large-scale lockdown.
Not content with calling the alleged liar, Marshall explained that under South Australia’s emergency law, “there is no penalty associated with telling lies.”
He added: “He is a man and I cannot go into the specifics of the reasons for his lie, but it goes without saying that the fact that we were not provided with accurate and truthful information has instigated a course of events that, based on the information that was provided to us was the correct course of action, and now we are moving rapidly to change that, based on what we know now, ”he said.
Almost instantly, an online mob was formed with users who took to the Woodville Pizza restaurants Facebook page to announce a boycott. Reporters rushed to the front of the Woodville Pizza store in Woodville, a post-industrial immigrant neighborhood in West Adelaide to prepare their live crosses.
Before long, a police car arrived to guard the front of the store.
In some ways, it was a convenient outlet for the state’s prime minister and health authorities who were feeling the pressure from the decision to outsource security work at the state’s quarantine hotels. Low wages and a lack of regular testing of workers had put them at risk and sparked what many thought was a second wave.
Ryan Batchelor, executive director of the McKell Institute in Victoria, said the ad framing worked to directly place the blame on an individual worker when there were real systemic problems that needed to be addressed.
“It seemed like the authorities were saying: in large part this is the fault of the person who lied to us,” Batchelor said. “The danger here is that this is portrayed as the actions of one person when it actually points to some more systemic problems with the way we work.
“The fact is that this type of thing could happen tomorrow, or next week, or in the future, as long as we have workers who have contracts, such as temporary ones, without guarantees and who are placed in the first line of a global health . pandemic.”
Last week, just before closing, the McKell Institute published investigation which found that 2.1 million Australians have various jobs, including 100,000 South Australians.
Many of them are migrants with precarious jobs. Abbey Kendall, director of the Center for Working Women, said the situation showed just how unsafe work is the “Achilles heel” of the pandemic.
“You may lie to a government or an institution because you are afraid in some way,” Kendall said.
“The persecution of this worker must be avoided. This is a time to reinvent the way we work, we know we can stop, pause and then start over very quickly. We need to bring that thinking and critical thinking to our workplaces and our community and figure out how we’re going to do this better. “
Late on friday Marshall promised to “throw away the book” to the worker and announced that a police work group would be created “to examine each and every aspect of the evidence provided and the consequences derived from it.”
University of Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely assisted co-authors in modeling that demonstrated that an elimination strategy was possible and ultimately informed the direction of the Victoria shutdown.
“Here in the southern hemisphere, we have learned that unlike the northern hemisphere, which only uses locks when things are out of control, we can use locks to contain the virus and achieve elimination,” said Blakely.
“The decision of the South Australian director of public health was justified at the time. The fact that the information now seems unreliable is unfortunate, but it is fortunate that it works this way and crashes and then the numbers explode. In New South Wales, they just got lucky. “
“There is a real problem here about how to ensure open and honest communication in the future. The question I ask is, does someone as powerful as the prime minister stand up and attack this person when they are in a powerless position? Is that fair? Will that hurt the ability of people to tell the truth in the future? It probably will. “
Although Blakely said that prevention was better than cure, he added that with the discovery of new legitimate cases in South Australia, the virus was still in the wild and therefore precautions had to be taken.
“You’re not going to go back to the way South Australia was before it blew up,” Blakely said. “You come out of a hard block, but you don’t come out of the times before the block.”
“If there is only one case, it can grow.”
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