Face masks, physical distancing: House bill sets 'new normal' in post-lockdown PH

Ranking members of the House of Representatives have filed a bill that would institutionalize new norms of physical distancing in public spaces – like the wearing of face masks – even after the lifting of the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte led other House leaders in filing House Bill No. 6623 or the New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020 on Tuesday, April 28.

Under the “new normal” bill, Filipinos would be required to wear face masks and practice physical distancing of at least one meter while in public places nationwide. Temperature checks would also continue, while handwashing and sanitizing stations would be set up in strategic areas in public spaces.

Mass testing of the population, including establishing drive-through, phone-in, and other non-contact modes of COVID-19 testing, is also listed under the “universal and mandatory safety measures” section of HB 6623.

The proposed measure also seeks the continuation of efforts to procure COVID-19 test kits and personal protective equipment, to put up more testing laboratories and quarantine facilities, and to trace individuals who tested positive.

The government would also be tasked to implement a “planned schedule” for pedestrians traveling from their homes to their workplaces and back, including the provision of transportation to ferry them to their destinations.

The bill would also make it mandatory for different government agencies to create digital governance mechanisms for their services.

HB 6623 would also institutionalize some enhanced community quarantine restrictions or regulations on public gatherings and public transportation.

A technical working group composed of the secretaries of the several national government agencies would be created to craft the implementing rules and regulations for HB 6623.

It would once again fall on local government units’ (LGUs) shoulders to implement locallized policies in implementing applicable provisions of the proposed measure.

The joint oversight committee formed by the 18th Congress would be responsible for scrutinizing the proper implementation of HB 6623.

If passed into law, provisions of the new normal bill would be valid for at most 3 years or earlier, depending on President Rodrigo Duterte’s final declaration guided by recommendatoins of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases.

What will happen to public transportation? HB 6623 would allow the resumption of operations of public transportation except for motorcycle taxis, which would still be suspended.

Physical distancing has to be observed inside public transportation vehicles as well as in queuing and ticketing areas. Passengers would be required to santize their hands before boarding the vehicle.

Operators and drivers would also have to implement a non-contact payment system to lessen the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Agencies running transport hubs like airports, ports, and harbors may consider implementing mandatory temperature checks, quarantine measures, thorough sanitizing and disinfection, and even rapid COVID-19 testing of passengers. Employees may be regularly checked for possible infection as well.

Will classes continue? Not yet under HB 6623. Classes and school activities would remain “suspended until further notice,” but this is subject to changes upon the recommendations of the Department of the Education and the Commission on Higher Education.

Autonomous institutions of higher learning would still have freedom to run their academic affairs, provided that no student would be “unreasonably penalized” for their inability to participate in online classes.

HB 6623 would direct all public and private schools to prioritize establishing electronic learning platforms.

Floor plans of schools would also have to follow the physical distancing protocol.

The national government would be tasked to fund research and develop systems for learning continuity in times of crisis.

Sangguniang Kabataan officials, meanwhile, would be expected to run information drives and to serve as a channel to monitor students’ grievances on academic requirements.

What rules will be required in workplaces? The national government and local government units (LGUs) would have to maintain a database profiling all private businesses in the country.

Business owners would need to submit a “New Normal Workforce and Workplace Management Plan” to their respective LGUs before they would be allowed to resume operations.

The food and beverage industry would be allowed to continue their takeout and delivery services. Dine in services would be “gradually” reintroduced, but there should be a two-meter distance between tables.

Buffets and salad services need to be temporarily discontinued as well.

Customers would have to be provided with alcohol-based wipes, touchless soap dispensers, disposable menu booklets and utensils.

For commercial stores and centers like shopping malls, boutiques, supermarkets, and banks, their managements would need to set a maximum number of people who could enter the premises. They would be asked to promote online transactions and implement cashless payment methods.

For offices in buildings, there must be a limit set for the number of people entering elevators and more vending machines should be opened instead of operating cafeterias.

Companies would also be discouraged from holding physical meetings and instead resort to online methods of communication.

Salons, parlors, and spas would be allowed to operate again, but personnel would be required to use face masks and gloves. They should also frequently wash their hands and sanitize their tools.

The Senate is yet to file a similar version of the House’s new normal bill. HB 6623 would need to go through 3 separate readings in both the House and the Senate before Duterte can sign it into law.

The 18th Congress is currently on break and will resume session on May 4. Lawmakers will likely resort to teleconferencing to deliberate and pass bills.

Who are the authors? HB 6623 is authored by the following House leaders:

  • Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Taguig City-Pateros 1st District
  • Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, Camarines Sur 2nd District
  • Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte, Davao City 1st District
  • Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, Antique
  • Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Leyte 1st District
  • House committee on appropriations chair Eric Yap, ACT-CIS,
  • House committee on public accounts chair Mike Defensor, Anakalusugan
  • House committee on good government and public accountability chair Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado, Bulacan 1st District

Read a full copy of HB 6623 below:

– Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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