A Whole Australian State Shut Down Because of a Takeout Pizza That Didn’t Exist

An allegedly misleading story raised fears a virulent strain of Covid-19 was spreading via surfaces such as pizza boxes

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SYDNEY—Soon after authorities in South Australia state were told a man had contracted Covid-19 after buying a takeout pizza from a restaurant with an infected employee, they ordered more than 1.7 million people to stay at home.

Schools were shut. Outdoor exercise was banned for six days. The state premier—worried by how quickly a virus outbreak had nearly spiraled out of control in neighboring Victoria state—asked the federal government to halt international flights into Adelaide, Australia’s fifth-biggest city by population.

Except, as it turned out, the man was an employee of the pizza restaurant, who likely contracted the virus from a co-worker. Health authorities say he misled them, sending them scrambling to find other customers who may have been infected.

“Had this person been truthful to the contact-tracing teams, we would not have gone into a six-day lockdown,” said Grant Stevens, the state’s top ranking police officer.

To authorities, a customer contracting Covid-19 simply by purchasing a pizza was an indication the virus could be spreading widely in the community. It also suggested a virulent strain of Covid-19 could be circulating, with people potentially being infected through contact with surfaces such as cardboard pizza boxes. Instead, the man had worked alongside his infected colleague in the kitchen at the Woodville Pizza Bar in suburban Adelaide, which narrowed the group who could have also become infected.

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