By Genshen L. Espedido, Reporter

A SUBPANEL of a House committee tackling anti-coronavirus measures has approved a bill mandating social distancing and the use of face masks in public under the so-called new normal.

The measure is expected to be passed by the committee on Thursday, after which it will be debated in plenary.

Under the bill, gatherings and the flow of people in public markets, parks and plazas will be “highly regulated.”

Gatherings in private places will also be regulated and may be stopped by the local government if it is shown that people ignored safety measures against the novel coronavirus.

The operation of motorcycle taxis will remain suspended to prevent the spread of the virus through shared helmets and close physical contact between the rider and passengers.

Passengers in all types of public transportation must wash or sanitize their hands before boarding the vehicle, be seated one seat apart, wear a face mask at all times, and pay through contactless methods.

The bill provides for “green lanes” on the road network for health care, emergency, law enforcement and supply-chain vehicles.

The bill also seeks to suspend classes and other school activities until further notice “without prejudice to the academic freedom and levels of autonomy of institutions of higher learning,” provided that no student is unreasonably penalized for their inability to participate in online learning.

Educational institutions must set up online learning platforms. Funding for research and development of systems for learning continuity during times of crisis will be made available by the National Government.

Restaurants may reopen with take-out and delivery service only, while gradually re-introducing in-store dining.

The bill recommended that buffets and salad bars be discontinued temporarily to create more space in the dining area.

Malls and other commercial establishments must limit the number of people inside their premises and enforce contact-less sales and customer service.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) must fast-track the implementation of the Philippine Identification System Act to facilitate contact-tracing.

The bill also calls on the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to expedite and fully implement a national broadband program.

Other government agencies must develop and implement a system for facilitating government transactions through online platforms.

Violators will be jailed for two months or fined P50,000.

If passed, the measure will be effective for three years or sooner once the President declares that the health crisis is over.

Also yesterday, Malacañang said Congress should extend the special powers given to Mr. Duterte to deal with the health crisis by at least three more months.

“We’ll see from there if at the end of 90 days, there’s a need for emergency powers still, then it can be extended until December,” Mr. Roque said, according to a transcript of his interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel.

Socioeconomic Planning Acting Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the President’s special powers should be extended until the end of the year. — with Gillian M. Cortez