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More Covid chaos on way as Freedom Day nears

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We are still 10 weeks away from Freedom Day (“Don’t call it that!” – GB). All over NSW strata committees are trying to work out what to do with their communal facilities in the meantime as well as when restrictions are lifted in the planned three stages.

And you can’t blame them or strata and building managers for being confused and frustrated. Every new tweak of the rules from the Government just seems to add to the chaos.

A large part of the problem is that NSW Health has clearly decided to let strata schemes work it out for themselves, with no clear guidance and few enforceable regulations.

For instance, they have quietly asked strata managers to impose restrictions that they have no legal right to wield, and plan to move the goalposts at least twice before we hit the date, December 1, on which pretty much all restrictions on everyone will be lifted

As we count down the days, some schemes, scared of being sued by residents who catch Covid-19 from other gym junkies and swimmers, have closed their facilities in line with government rules on commercial entities.

Others, wary of being assailed by disgruntled owners who claim their gyms and swimming pools are extensions of their homes, therefore they can’t be denied access, are keeping them open.

Some tenants are apparently demanding reductions in rent because they are paying for facilities that they have not been able to use, with closures based on no official reason.

And somewhere in the middle, in valiant efforts to keep facilities open and the virus at bay, some schemes are imposing restrictions on the numbers of residents who can use facilities at the same time and the frequency and length of time they can use them.

Meanwhile the schemes that don’t have strata managers – and that’s most of the small apartment blocks – bumble along, glad that they don’t have swimming pools, gyms or even lifts, often unaware that they should be wearing masks in common areas anyway.  

Vaxxed to the max

And now, just when things are beginning to settle down, with every strata scheme finding its own level, we are suddenly en route to freedom. The trouble is, everybody seems to have a different edition of the roadmap.

Right now, some strata committees are being asked by owners – especially resident owners – if they can keep unvaccinated residents and visitors out of communal facilities.

So what’s causing the confusion? For a start, the proposed increase of fully vaccinated people you can entertain in your home will present real issues for apartment blocks who, for very good reason, don’t want unvaccinated and potentially infected visitors traipsing through common areas and using lifts.

And how diligent can we expect apartment residents to be in checking their guests’ vaccination status at a time when we are all celebrating the easing of restrictions?

How effective will QR codes in apartment block foyers – yes, many have them –  be if there is no one there to police them?

Can apartment block managers and strata committees even ask residents if they are vaccinated before allowing them to access communal facilities?

Perhaps the contact tracing QR codes will provide instant information but, to be fair, they’re great when they work but worse than useless when they don’t (and they often don’t).

As an aside, it’s amazing how precious we become about our privacy when it comes to defeating a global pandemic, but not so much when we are sharing details of our holidays and dinners with the world via social media.

But how else can strata schemes keep the wilfully infectable away from other residents who have chosen to do the right thing for their families, their communities and themselves.

Slimmer Gyms

Take the use of gyms as just one example. As commercial gyms re-open with “no-vax, no class” rules, that could and should reduce the demand on apartment block gyms.

Also, can committees justify keeping their own gyms closed when commercial gyms around them are opening up?

However, if unvaxxed residents still can’t get into their commercial gyms, they will want to get into their apartment block gyms. And how can strata committees keep them out, except on a trust basis?

Given that some strata residents revel in ignoring regulations and by-laws – just as beachgoers delight in ignoring the physical distancing rules – the trust factor could be fairly fragile in some blocks.

And if someone has, for whatever reason, decided not to go with the vaccine flow, can they be trusted to do the right thing by their strata community and stay out of communal facilities?

The simple solution would be for NSW Health to issue advisories for strata schemes, suggesting that committees should limit their access to communal facilities based on the fundamental restrictions imposed by Public Health Orders plus whatever measures are deemed appropriate by the majority in individual schemes.

That could include permission to require proof that residents using communal facilities and visitors to their homes are fully vaccinated.

That way strata committees would not have to live in fear of litigious residents and owners claiming they had either over-reached with restrictions or under-performed with protections.

In short, if NSW Health wants to let strata schemes find their own way through the post-lockdown maze, then a few signposts on the roadmap can only help.

Meanwhile the NSW government, with half an eye on the national roadmap to recovery, is planning a three-phase lifting of restrictions. This list of changes that might have direct or indirect implications for strata schemes and is based on a comprehensive rundown in the Guardian’s online pages.

Phase One lockdown lifting

This will occur when 70 percent of adults in NSW have been fully vaccinated.

Stay-at-home orders will be lifted for adults who have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from the Monday after NSW achieves the 70% double-dose vaccination target.

The estimated date for reaching that milestone Monday October 11.

After that residents will be allowed up to five visitors in their homes, not counting children 12 and under, but all adults will have to be fully vaccinated.

Employers must still allow employees to work from home, if they wish and it’s practicable, but require those who are not fully vaccinated to work from home (if possible).

Fully vaccinated people will not be required to wear masks outdoors. We will still be required to wear masks indoors in public areas so we can assume (dare we?) that applies to strata residents in common areas too.

Up to 20 vaccinated people will be allowed to gather outdoors – whether this applies to outdoor common areas of apartment blocks, or outdoor terraces of apartments is, of course, unclear.

Commercial gyms can offer classes for up to 20 vaccinated people and indoor recreation facilities (such as games room and video theatres) can open under a one vaccinated person per 4 sq metres rule and 75% fixed seated capacity.

Phase Two lockdown lifting

Once again, this strata-related information is culled from a comprehensive report in the Guardian.

When 80% vaccination coverage is reached up to 10 visitors will be allowed in a home (not counting children 12 and under), up to 20 people can gather outdoors unmasked.

People who are not fully vaccinated may only meet outdoors and in pairs.

The restrictions for gyms and entertainment areas will remain the same.  The big difference for pubs and bars will be that patrons will not have to be seated but the 4sqm rule will apply.

Unvaccinated people will still only be allowed to buy takeaway food from restaurants and click and collect from shops.

Employers must still allow employees to work from home, if practicable, and require those who are not fully vaccinated to work from home.

Mask wearing in indoor public areas (including strata common areas?) will still be obligatory, whether vaccinated or not.

Phase Three lockdown lifting

From Wednesday, December 1 – presumably provided there has been no major outbreaks of the virus during phase 2 –  the most restrictions will be lifted on all NSW citizens, regardless of their vaccination status.

For instance, there will be no limit on the number of visitors to a home or who meet outdoors.

Density levels for most indoor and outdoor commercial premises –  including shops, hairdressers, spas, nail and beauty salons, waxing, tattoo and massage parlours –  will increase to one person per 2 sq m for indoor and outdoor settings.

Gym density will also increase to one person per 2sqm with no cap on the number of people in classes. “Intimate services” will still be restricted to one person per 4 sqm.

Working from home will be at the employer’s discretion.

Mask wearing will no longer be required when outdoors or in many indoor situations like shops and offices but it will still be mandatory while travelling on public transport, on planes and at airports, and for front-of-house hospitality workers.

The restrictions and freedoms listed here are only part of the larger picture which involves changes to travel and entertaining and many other aspects of non-strata-specific life.

Again, we recommend the rundown on the Guardian website. Also as these measures can change every day, for the most recent official rules and regulations via Public Health Orders, go to this NSW Health website.

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