MEXICO CITY, April 7 (Xinhua) -- Latin American countries are urging, and sometimes mandating, people to use face masks to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, even as global experts debate its efficacy in warding off infection.
In Chile, where 5,116 people have tested positive for COVID-19, and 43 have died from the disease, the government has made it mandatory to use a face mask on all public transit and paid private transportation.
In Ecuador, the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) decided to make face masks obligatory in public spaces, according to Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo.
Local officials will be in charge of enforcing the new measure, Romo said via Twitter.
Ecuador is among Latin America's three worst-hit countries, along with Brazil and Chile, having reported 3,747 cases with 191 deaths.
Brazil has acknowledged a lack of sufficient face masks for such a move, leading the country's three largest private banks -- Itau, Bradesco and Santander -- to join forces to try to supply the protective items.
The banks announced they were earmarking 50 million reals (10 million US dollars) to purchase 15 million masks from small manufacturers in Brazil.
Brazil has reported 13,717 cases with 667 deaths, and the mortality stood at 4.9 percent, according to the Health Ministry.
The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines basically recommend wearing "a mask if you are coughing or sneezing" to prevent others from being infected.
Healthy people should wear a mask if they are taking care of a person who may have the virus, the WHO says, adding "masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water."