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Covid confusion as strata mask orders remain

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Building managers are taking down signs requiring residents to wear masks, strata committees are telling tenants and owners that masks aren’t required on common property and everybody in strata land is loving their mask-free lives.

The trouble is, the law hasn’t changed.  The latest public health order and the advice on the NSW Health website both say the same – masks must be worn on indoor common property areas in residential buildings.

The confusion can probably be traced back to the Service NSW government app for smartphones which, in its Covid-19 Resources page says, “You must wear a face mask in all non-residential indoor areas, including public transport.”

There is no mention of strata common property areas. So what does “residential” mean?  Some strata committees and managers are wrongly but understandably taking it to mean apartment blocks in their entirety.

However, the current Public Health Order allowing mask wearing outside, still specifically excludes apartment block common areas from mask-free freedom.

Division 4 Fitted face coverings 

2.15 Fitted face coverings
(1) A person in the general area who is over 12 years of age must wear a fitted face covering while the person is— (a) in an indoor area of premises other than a place of residence, or (b) in an indoor area on common property for residential premises … (my emphasis).

Also the current advisory on the NSW Health website says this:

Masks

Masks must be worn in indoor areas (other than places of residence), indoor common property on residential premises, public transport waiting areas/vehicles/vessels, while working in hospitality and dealing directly with members of the public, and on domestic commercial aircraft. Teachers and staff must wear masks at schools. Certain exceptions apply.

So who’s right and who’s wrong? Strata lawyer Amanda Farmer of yourstrataproperty.com is absolutely clear on this: “Masks on indoor common property is still mandated by the Health Order,” she says.

Jane Hearn, Covid-19 spokesperson for the Owners Corporation Network has confirmed this in a note to OCN members, and she is worried that people aren’t aware that the risk of infections will probably increase as restrictions are relaxed.

“I don’t think people understand yet that with more mobility and interaction there will be more infection. The risk has just gone up not down (yet),” she says.

Some strata schemes, having wrongly taken down their “mask-up” signs are anticipating removal of the mask mandate as we approach 80 per cent double vaccination, probably this weekend.

However, while we have been told that masks will not be mandatory in offices for double-vaxxed workers, they will still be required in all indoor areas like shops and public transport.

This is what the online advisory on the post-80 per cent roadmap says:

Masks and QR codes

  • Masks required for all staff and customers in all indoor settings including on public transport, planes and in airports (except children under the age of 12).
  • Masks no longer required in office buildings (unvaccinated people must still wear a mask in the office).
  • Masks no longer required in outdoor settings (except for front-of-house hospitality staff).
  • COVID Safe check-ins and proof of vaccination required for staff and customers.

One again, of course, there is no mention of the million-plus people who live in strata blocks, including those that have been super-spreading hot spots in the recent past.

This could change in the next few days but there is no indication that apartment blocks will be treated the same as offices, rather than shops and other areas where strangers tend to cross paths.

In the meantime strata managers, building managers and committees who have only read the advice on the NSW Services smartphone app, have jumped the gun – and understandably so – but, if there was ever any point in wearing masks on common property, they could be putting their residents’ health at risk.

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