Australia and the world are currently dealing with a new outbreak of coronavirus, (COVID-19), which originated in Wuhan, China and is causing respiratory illness.
People have a right to be concerned, but not unduly alarmed, about the outbreak of COVID-19.
Recent data suggest the disease is highly infectious although 80% of people have a mild-to-moderate disease, 20% a severe/critical illness and 2-3% die.
People who are at greater risk are those who are older or have other illnesses.
As apartment owners and body corporates prepare to mitigate against potential exposure, we have provided a fact sheet and compiled an overview of suggested apartment owner preparations and practices in anticipation of the potential spread of COVID-19.
What is Covid-19:
It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.
What are the symptoms of this coronavirus causes?
The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.
Covid-19 in Australia
At the time of writing (March 9th) the total number of coronavirus cases in Australia now stands at 81, with 40 in NSW, 15 in Queensland, 12 in Victoria, seven in South Australia, four in WA, two in Tasmania and one in Northern Territory. Three people have died, while 22 people have recovered.
How does Covid-19 spread?
The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak is a new illness and scientists are still assessing how it spreads from person to person, but similar viruses tend to spread via cough and sneeze droplets.
Viruses can also be spread through droplets landing on surfaces such as seats on buses or trains or desks in school. However, whether this is a main transmission route depends on how long viruses survive on surfaces – this can vary from hours to months.
Managing Infection Control
Everyone is now familiar with the “common sense” approach to infection control-practicing proper cough etiquette, washing your hands frequently and staying home if you are sick.
Once beyond the early stage, enhanced measures may be required, such as sanitizing common areas and commonly touched elements (door handles, elevator buttons, etc.) and placing hand sanitizers in common areas and fitness centers.
Infectious Disease By-laws
While body corporate issues may be at the bottom of your priorities if you are unfortunate enough to contract the coronavirus, apartment owners and residents should be aware that you may have a legal obligation to inform the body corporate that you have an infectious disease.
Most schemes will have a by-law on infectious diseases worded to the effect of:
“Occupiers must immediately give Notice to the Body Corporate of any serious infectious disease contracted by the Occupier or an Invitee and include in such Notice details of all relevant information related to that disease.”
Covid-19 certainly falls into this category, and if you fail to give Notice to the Body Corporate you will be breaching your building’s by-laws.
Protecting Your Complex:
Discourage panic, there is no reason to expect COVID-19 to cause the same damage to our infrastructure that we would see after a cyclone or major bushfires and floods so you shouldn’t plan for it in the same way. While you don’t want to run out of toilet paper, there is no reason to buy 50 packages.
Encourage residents not to shake hands, and to utilise common areas as little as possible.
Install hand sanitizer stands in all amenity spaces and common areas; and be vigilant when it comes to reporting anyone with symptoms.
Current prevention advice is to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects with a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Encourage the use of face masks. Masks are effective at capturing droplets, which is a main transmission route of coronavirus.
If it can be afforded, additional cleaning of common areas should be arranged increase cleaning specifically of door handles and elevator buttons; and be vigilant when it comes to reporting anyone with symptoms.
Current advice is that anyone with flu-like symptoms who has a connection to any country affected by the virus should seek medical attention immediately, if necessary, by calling 000.
Ask residents to alert the building manager or another resident if they feel sick, particularly if you have used any of the building’s common amenity spaces.
NSW Health says people who have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 and people who have been in China or Iran need to isolate themselves for 14 days from the contact or date of return travel.
Contact is defined as being face-to-face with someone for at least 15 minutes or being in the same closed space for two hours.
If a resident at your complex is in self-isolation, enquire if they need assistance to get supplies or groceries. Leave them outside their door.
Arrange times that they can put out their rubbish with the least contact with other residents.
Ensure they have facemasks whenever outside their unit.
The links below give information on how quarantine works.
Body Corporate Meetings- Advice from Strata Community Association (QLD)
Bodies corporate should introduce precautionary policies to defer any non-essential meetings. This directly relates to body corporate committee and general meetings held on site or at office venues.
Based on best practice proactive advice and preventative policies, we are encouraging communities to assess meetings on a case by case basis with a risk assessment and give consideration to deferring or arranging alternative attendance methods for face to face meetings if there is a risk of contamination.
If meetings do occur, we encourage communities to implement preventive measures and precautions to ensure both staff and attendees are not infected, for example, ensuring no one attends a meeting if they are in quarantine / isolation due to Department of Health requirements or if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, as well as taking practical measures, e.g. having attendees not sit in close proximity to each other during the meeting.
This is a necessary precaution to reduce the risk of virus spread, particularly in circumstances where attendees at meetings may be infected without knowing or vulnerable. We also note this is a rapidly escalating issue and it may be appropriate at a time to consider deferring all face to face meetings.
Communication is key:
In January, residents at a Gold Coast apartment tower where a man was confirmed as Queensland’s first coronavirus patient were left in the dark and expressed their frustration at a lack of information or reassurance coming from hotel management.
Guests only found out a resident had coronavirus on social media.
Last week an office building in NSW was conducting Coronavirus testing on one floor but failed to communicate to the body corporate and other tenants that such testing was occurring.
Patients getting tested were using common property such as elevators.
These cases highlight the need to communicate well.
If any resident has or is suspected of having Covid-19, all key stakeholders MUST BE INFORMED.
Accurate, timely and regular communications with owners, residents, suppliers and possibly even the media are critical. Make sure you have all available contact information for your staff, residents and suppliers. Be sure to appoint spokespersons if there is media attention.
While COVID-19 is of concern, it is important to remember that most people displaying symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or tiredness are likely suffering with a cold or other respiratory illness – not COVID-19.
For the latest health advice, information and resources, go to www.health.gov.au or call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you have any concerns about your health, speak to your doctor.
Author: Sam Aubrey