We received a plaintive “please explain” on the Flat Chat website recently. A reader wanted to know why their swimming pool and spa remained resolutely closed when the rest of the country was opening up.
That’s, of course, before the rest of the country started closing down again. In a week when Victoria closes its borders with NSW again, and Sydneysiders are ordered to wear masks in shops, cinemas and gyms, that question may seem a little premature.
And this question was asked way back … oooh, let me see … a couple of weeks ago when Covid-19 was but a distant memory or, at worst, an ailment that only plagued other countries.
It think it’s fair to assume that right now our Flatchatter’s facilities remain firmly closed as the virus threatens to sweep across Sydney and thence to the rest of Australia.
But as we emerge from this latests resurgence, this question will arise again. So why would it be that his apartment block was still in lockdown while others were almost back to normal?
First of all, in NSW at least, most apartment blocks have been left to their own devices.
There were general rules about social distancing and the number of people in lifts, and so on, but right from the start, neither NSW Health nor Fair Trading wanted to tell strata schemes how to run things except to alert them to the main concerns and strategies to combat the spread of the virus.
In Victoria, by way of contrast, they locked down several housing commission apartment blocks in what is now generally regarded as an unnecessarily brutal response, while private blocks also suffered serious restrictions.
But, regardless of where you are in Australia, the difference in how unit block facilities were managed depended very much on a combination of specific circumstances and local rules and regulations.
In my block, everything was shut down for a couple of weeks while we all got a sense of what could and couldn’t be done, and then the restrictions were gradually lifted but under strict control, including bookings for gyms and limiting numbers there and in the spa.
Admittedly, it helps if you have concierges on your front desk to handle and monitor the bookings.
An adjacent building (which also has concierges) shut everything down and then opened up sooner, operating a key system so that the concierges could control the numbers in the gym and pool.
Another nearby building never closed their facilities at all but limited the numbers to a maximum of two at a time provided they were from the same household.
I know one personal trainer who allowed himself to be registered as the partner in a same-sex relationship (he’s not gay) so he could continue to train his client.
So what are the determining factors in whether or not your facilities will be closed (or remain so) if there is a new widespread Covid-19 panic.
Firstly, if your building can control access to the facilities, they really should try to stay open for the physical and mental health of residents. Exercise is good for both and keeping facilities open adds to a sense of normality that we could all use.
However, all of that that could be stymied by a lack of management oversight. Most blocks don’t have concierges or managers who can take bookings, but some do have online booking systems, so that could work.
Then there’s the opportunism of committees who see this as a way of saving money, especially if keeping facilities open would mean they had to spend more on cleaning, and closing them means they reduce costs on that, as well as lighting and heating or cooling.
And finally there’s the creeping realisation across all communities that some people can’t be trusted and many actually take pride in, for instance, not wearing masks in public places, not socially distancing and not acting responsibly.
So what do you do when your community is keeping the facilities closed for no better reason than it’s easier to do so? Write the letters, make the phone calls and submit motions to the committee, if only to ask if there isn’t a better way.
That said, you can’t blame strata committees for declining to be responsible for the actions of anti-maskers and, coming soon, anti-vaxxers. These are the most obvious examples of the “I’m all right, Jack … stuff you” attitudes we seem to have inherited from Trump’s America.
Actually, those antisocial views have always been around here for a long time too, but the cult of narcissistic self interest has grown stronger in the past four years, to the extent that some people now wear their “freedom” to be utterly selfish as a badge of pride.
A vaccine for Covid-19 may be on the way but there’s no cure for selfish stupidity.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.