A letter from Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant has called on NSW strata managers to update strata rolls in case they are needed to alert apartment block residents about infections in their buildings.
And it advises them that communal facilities in strata buildings, such as gyms and theatres, should be closed to decrease the risk of transmission.
The letter, which went out to strata industry leaders last Friday was signed by Dr Chant but issues with its strange wording and physical formatting – the NSW Health logo had been clumsily cropped – raised doubts about its authenticity.
However, NSW Health officials confirmed this week that it was genuine.
“As you are aware the COVID-19 outbreak in NSW continues to grow,” says the letter, simply addressed ‘Dear Strata Manager.’
“The Delta variant of COVID-19 is highly transmissible, and we have seen an increase in cases residing in residential apartment buildings,” it continues.
“We have also seen some instances of spread of COVID-19 between residents in common areas of apartment blocks.
“I am writing to seek your support in NSW Health’s management of the current COVID-19 outbreak.
“NSW Health requests that you ensure strata rolls are up to date and available to provide to the NSW Health contact tracing team upon request. Please ensure the strata roll includes the name, address, contact phone number and email address of all owners and tenants.
“We also ask that you ensure residents have contact details for their strata managing agent or owners corporation to provide NSW Health on request.”
The letter goes on to say that in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in a residential apartment building, NSW Health may also ask strata managers to distribute information to the residents and place signage in the common property areas.’
It reminds recipients of owners corporations’ legal duty under the strata Act to maintain an up to date roll of all residents and adds that the transfer of that information to NSW Health for the purpose of alerting residents to an outbreak of the virus is permitted under the Public Health Act 2010.
“Your assistance in streamlining the contact tracing process in this way can play a major role in decreasing risk to your building residents,” the letter says.
“Given the risk of COVID-19 transmission communal areas such as gyms, lounges and theatres should be closed at this time.”
It’s worth noting that the last paragraph takes the form of an advisory, rather than an order or even a request.
It may be that Dr Chant has been correctly advised that strata managers can’t simply close common areas in strata blocks, only strata committees or owners corp general meetings can do that, and even then they have to balance the protection of the community against the rights of residents to use the facilities they have paid for.
As it is, there is debate over whether Public Health Orders demanding that masks be worn in common areas have any legal weight, as it could be interpreted as interfering in people’s homes.
It was for that reason that NSW Health delayed orders to wear masks in common areas for two weeks after they had issued them for shops and offices.
As for the question of authenticity, why would the letter have been faked? Well, it could certainly be seen as an effort to stir strata residents up about privacy issues, not to mention closure of facilities.
But it’s real. NSW Health’s office staff need to brush up their copying, cropping and pasting skills.
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