A mystery vehicle that has captured the attention of workers at Adelaide Airport because of its “COVID 19” number plate was spotted being driven on a nearby road in late March, video suggests.
Images showing the BMW 5 Series sedan at the airport’s staff car park surfaced on Monday, with worker Steven Spry saying he and colleagues first noticed the car months earlier.
Its number plate was only revealed in April after a cover over the car blew off in windy weather, Mr Spry said.
Adelaide motorist Dan Parfitt on Wednesday said he noticed the car while driving on Burbridge Road, West Beach – near the airport – on March 24.
“It obviously stood out straight away … I took a Snapchat video of it and never thought of it again,” he said.
“It was pretty early in the proceedings before it really kicked off here.”
Mr Parfitt said a man appeared to be driving the BMW, and a spokesperson for Adelaide Airport said the matter had attracted “quite a bit of interest”.
The spokesperson said the owner of the vehicle had been contacted.
“The airport has spoken to the owner, who is interstate,” the spokesperson said.
The disease caused by coronavirus was first officially labelled COVID–19 on February 11, and was declared a pandemic one month later.
Under South Australian regulations, it takes about 10 days to get a personalised number plate.
Another picture of the car in a different location at the airport was posted on a popular Instagram page on March 21, although it has since been deleted.
The car’s number plate has spurred tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theories on social media, and Mr Spry said he had since received calls from media worldwide.
A search of property records revealed the vehicle had not been reported stolen.
Other COVID-inspired plates reported
In South Australia, custom number plates have to be approved by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.
The Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure has been contacted for comment about why “COVID 19” was allowed as a number plate.
The department has previously said it allowed words to be used that could be said openly in the community.
“This approach rules out combinations that are obviously objectionable, contain inflammatory or defamatory references, but it may still allow combinations that some consider in poor taste, cheeky or attention-seeking,” a spokesperson told The Advertiser.
New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria limit custom number plates to six characters.
A search of official Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia personalised number plate websites suggests the combination “COVID 19” is not allowed in those states.
“Due to the significant health and economic impacts of COVID-19, this combination would not be available for sale as a number plate in Queensland,” a spokesperson for the Department of Transport and Main Roads confirmed.
“Personalised plate policies are updated regularly to reflect current community and social norms and to meet Queensland drivers’ expectations.”
However, a photo of a NSW car with the number plate “COVID” in black and gold text, and the image of a dragon on it, was posted to another popular social media account.
An NT motorcycle also has the same registration.
A Toyota Corona has been registered in South Australia with the number plate “VIRUS”, records show.
It appears to have been registered recently, since the plate was previously allocated to a Nissan sedan.
A South Australian Holden ute has had the moniker “WUHAN” since at least February.