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Masks on! Strata residents ordered to cover up as unit block hit by virus

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Apartment residents in Greater Sydney’s lockdown zone have been ordered to mask up on common property during the current Covid-19 crisis.

The order comes into force on Tuesday, July 13, too late for the 29-unit block in the city’s Eastern Suburbs where, it was announced on Monday, eight residents in five households have contracted Covid-19.

After weeks of reluctance to issue the same orders that apply to offices and shops, NSW Health has finally instructed apartment residents to wear masks in lifts, lobbies and garages.

This comes as a huge relief for tens of thousands of strata committees, managing agents  and facilities managers who have been waiting for a clear signal from government that wearing masks in common areas was essential.

Over the weekend, as lockdown rules were tightened across greater Sydney, Health Minister Brad Hazzard issued an amendment to the restrictions including an addition requiring “the wearing of fitted face coverings in indoor areas on common property in certain residential premises in Greater Sydney.”

The Health Minister has signed the Public Health (COVID-19 Temporary Movement and Gathering Restrictions) Amendment (No 4) Order 2021. The Order imposes additional restrictions including that masks are required in indoor common property areas of residential premises in Greater Sydney (eg lifts and lobbies of apartment blocks) from July 13.

Mask-up poster and link to pdf
You can download a printable pdf of this poster here.

Our friends at the Owners Corporation Network have passed on the links to posters reflecting the changes in the laws.

The NSW Government website has also been updated tonight to reflect these changes with advice on Greater Sydney face mask rules and When to wear a face mask.

Updated existing hygiene posters for residential buildings are intended to ensure the resource suite has the same look and feel, to reduce any issues with credibility:

An OCN spokesperson noted that the message about wearing masks in common property is now “filtering into mainstream media” although generally without comment.

The case for masking up because of the increased risk of infection through proximity on common property was brought into stark relief weeks ago when the Kings Park building in Melbourne’s Southbank was locked down following the spread of Covid-19 through casual contact in the multi-level block’s car park.

As a result, when Greater Sydney went into lockdown, many high-rise buildings issued their own requests to their residents to wear masks while on common property, especially in lifts.

However, many were concerned that without a clear direction from the state government it may not have been a rule that they could impose and so it was seen as voluntary and therefor ignorable.

And there were the thousands upon thousands of strata schemes with little in the way of professional management or fully engaged committees for whom it was left entirely to individuals to make their own choices.

“As the Premier said, the Delta variant is a gamer changer,” a spokesperson for the Owners Corporation Network (OCN) told Flat Chat. “We all need to do our bit and follow the advice and the new order mandating masks in our strata schemes.

“The mask mandate applies to everyone, residents and all the workers who come into these complexes. There are thousands of worker providing essential services that keep these apartment complexes functioning in a healthy way.”

NSW Health has crept slowly to the conclusion that people who pass each other in common property and share lifts were more akin to people working in offices than residents of stand-alone houses.

Last week it issued digital posters exhorting but not ordering residents to wear masks on common property, for committees to self-print and strata organisations like the OCN and the strata managers peak body Strata Community Association (SCA-NSW), to distribute.

But even when it came to the change in attitude to wearing masks in strata common areas there was no announcement – just an amendment to the legislation.

There has been a reported reluctance by NSW Health to interfere in private homes with its edicts but to equate stand-alone homes with high-rise apartments or even townhouses with shared garages is to ignore how people get to and from their homes in the first place.

Part of the problem seems to be having two mammoth ministries in the government, Health and Fair Trading (or Better Regulation, to give it its proper name) that rarely if ever have to put their heads together on anything.

We’re talking about the Mandarins of Macquarie Street who can, at times, be more concerned with protecting their territories than pursuing the best policies for the greater public good.

It’s just another argument for getting strata out of Fair Trading, creating a Strata Commissioner and letting us deal with our issues in the way that we seem to know better than those who always seem to have other priorities before even thinking about the one million strata residents in NSW.

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