The New South Wales health minister has said a newspaper’s decision to name the man who visited numerous barbecue shops in Sydney while infected with Covid-19 was “appalling” and would undermine public health.
Brad Hazzard said the Australian Financial Review’s story identifying a patient “stinks” because it may discourage the public from cooperating fully with the contact tracers in the future and the man had not consented to have his identity revealed.
“No journalist should think it’s OK to go naming a patient, someone who is working with [the Department of] Health,” Hazzard said.
“It’s the quickest way to destroy the confidence of all of us if we think that some journalist somewhere thinks it’s OK to name a patient who is working with us to make sure the community stays safe. It stinks, actually.”
Last week, the state announced two locally acquired cases, a man in his 50s from Woollahra – dubbed Patient X – and his wife, also in her 50s, but the couple was not named as is the usual practice.
AFR editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury has defended his decision to identify the patient as newsworthy. “[The executive] is a prominent businessman involved in a number of key business transactions and it was newsworthy and in the public interest to explain his movements given the ongoing reporting around the visits,” a spokesperson for Stutchbury told Guardian Australia.
“We approached [the company] and they were aware of the story and provided comments. We recognise and acknowledge the government’s concerns and did not take this decision lightly.”
The NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said the man, who was named against his will, was reassured by the department that the information did not come from officials.
“I’m incredibly disappointed,” Chant said. “I stood up [at the press conference] every day and I got to say I really respect the way the media hasn’t pushed me when I won’t give the exact age or disclose something.
“In the end we rely on people sharing the most blow-by-blow descriptions.”
Chant said the man had taken several calls a day from the department and had provided multiple details including his walking route and his credit card time stamps. “It’s not a good outcome for public health when that happens,” Chant said.
Last week the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the man had been “very active in the inner east” and had been “very good” at registering his details at locations he visited, including a cinema at Bondi Junction and several barbecue stores.
On Monday, in its markets column Street Talk, the Nine Entertainment financial daily revealed the man’s name, position and employer.
The AFR story was then copied by the Daily Mail and news.com.au, which both ran multiple photographs which further identified the couple.
The newspaper carried a comment from the man’s employer, saying it won’t comment on an employee’s medical condition.