A LAWMAKER urged Congress on Saturday to exempt face masks, sanitizers and other protective goods from import duties and taxes after the Health department asked the government to declare a public health emergency amid a novel coronavirus outbreak.

Exempting face masks and other products such antiseptics from taxes would “assure adequate supply, stabilize prices and avoid hoarding at this time of crisis,” Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo said in a statement at the weekend.

“Our goal is to make these currently important health products available in the market and enable consumers to buy them at cost,” she said.

Ms. Hipolito-Castelo said she would file a bill that will give the tax and duty exemption. She added that flooding the market with these goods would lead to lower prices and prevent unscrupulous traders from hoarding them and selling them later at prohibitive prices.

The measure could “pinch” government revenue, but “it could bolster public safety, sustain commerce and keep the economy at its feet.”

Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda, who heads the ways and means committee, said he would act on the measure.

“We will act on it and find means so it could be done without legislation to speed up cheaper imports,” he said in a mobile-phone message on Sunday.

Ms. Hipolito-Castelo also urged health authorities to be “more straightforward” in informing the public about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

She noted that on Friday, the Health secretary said it was “premature” to call the infection of a 62-year-old man as a local transmission since it was “only one,” only to be declared as such by the World Health Organization a few hours later.

Mr. Duque belatedly admitted on Saturday that it was a “localized transmission.” The infected man had no history of travel outside the country.

“We should tell the public the situation exactly as it is to encourage our people to strengthen their defenses against this virus,” Ms. Castelo said. — Genshen L. Espedido