CEBU

EXPLAINER: After MGCQ, 'Better Normal' may be next. Bill readied by Congress, which gives a glimpse of post-Covid era, seeks to last three years.

MANILA. A woman checks the temperature of passengers to help curb the spread of Covid-19 at a bus stop in Quezon City, Philippines on August 19, 2020. (AP)

THE SITUATION. Most of the country is now under the modified general quarantine or MGCQ, the least restrictive of the four kinds of quarantine in the Philippines since the first ECQ was imposed last March 16.

The local governments of Cebu have gone through enhanced and general quarantines: ECQ and GCQ and the modified version of each.

Cebu City, particularly, went through the rough stages of enhanced quarantine, moving into general quarantine, then falling back into ECQ before it caught up, starting September 1, with the other Cebu local governments at modified GCQ -- and, perhaps soon, the New Normal.

But it's no longer called New Normal. If it were left to the legislators, the name would be Better Normal: from NN to BN. So after ECQ, MECQ, GCQ and MGCQ, it will probably BN.

HOUSE-OK'D BILL. House Bill #686, which the House of Representatives approved on third reading last August 10, is titled "Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities and Public Spaces Act of 2020" or House Bill #6864. Unless the Senate version or the bicameral committee will come up with another name, the name the House proponents have given, it will stick on the law President Rodrigo Duterte will sign.

The House version will undergo changes but even now, the bill gives people glimpses of how the law may affect their life after the quarantines. HB #6864 is mostly about policies and regulations related to public health and environment during a pandemic and its impact after the public emergency.

THREE YEARS OR SOONER. What many people are interested in is what will come after the quarantine and how long the law regulating it will last.

The House version, already transmitted to the Senate, provides under Section 16 (headed "Sunset clause") that the law shall cease to be in force (1) three years from date of effectivity of the law or (2) sooner, when the president shall declare, on recommendation of the national task force IATF, that the pandemic has ended.

(The bill calls a health emergency "pandemic" if the outbreak of an infectious disease covers a wide geographic area and affects a large part of the population. It does not have to be global as the current meaning of the word conveys.)

DOESN'T LOOK NORMAL. The post-quarantine regulations under HB #6864 keep the standard protocols that people have gone through the four CQs: notably, wearing of face mask and face shield, physical distancing, hand-washing and temperature-reading.

And here's the part that tells us those health protocols might stay much longer: the bill says the law shall expire after the three-year period or sooner, when the president declares the health crisis is over, except regulations that are not rendered useless or impractical by the eradication of the epidemic.

ROLE OF LGUs. Local governments will bear, as they have been doing during the current health crisis, the burden of implementing the Better Normal rules.

LGUs are also charged with the duty of instituting local ordinances that will enforce national policies. And local legislation, as it is now, must adhere to programs and principles laid down by the national government.

For example, under the bill, failure to wear a mask or shield is punishable only with censure and community service. Under the Cebu City ordinance, it is punishable with a fine and/or, on third offense, a jail term. The local ordinance has to conform once the bill becomes law.

INFLUENCE ON POLICIES. Developments on drugs or vaccines and actual progress in containing of Covid-19 will influence government policies on life after the coronavirus.

But the way national legislators are preparing for the post-Covid era must caution their constituents that things would be anything but normal.

New or better, it would not be the normal that people were used to before coronavirus.


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