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Passengers wearing masks look up at a screen listing departure times and gates at the Arturo Benitez International Airport in Santiago, Chile, yesterday. The health ministers of Argentina and Chile confirmed their country’s first case of the coronavirus yesterday.

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Travel agencies are taking a hit as fears over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to grow. This is following calls placed to several travel agencies in the country.

Several agencies admitted they had been hit by cancellations from customers but gave information to Guardian Media under condition of anonymity to protect their business interests.

“We started to receive calls about two weeks ago from travellers who were booked to destinations such as Italy and surrounding areas where the virus was most prominent, enquiring about refunds and cancellation policy etc,” one major agency told Guardian Media in an email.

The agency also noted an increase in cancellations this week which it attributed to confirmation of COVID-19 cases within the Caribbean region over the weekend.

“It seemed to have raised an alarm of concern to clients booked to practically any destination. We have been receiving (a) higher volume of calls this week with request(s) for actual cancellations for within the Caribbean and even US destinations due to fear of contracting the virus,” the agency said in the email.

Another agency indicated that people were still making bookings but not in the quantities they were accustomed to at this time of the year and for the busier periods later on in the travel season.

“So at this point in the year, where you know would have been early game for booking of summer packages and so on for Easter and all the other long weekends we have in Trinidad, it has more or less slowed down by 60 per cent,” the agency manager told Guardian Media in a telephone interview.

The manager said they have also noticed a large number of the elderly community had been cancelling their bookings.

“What we find is more of the older folks like 55 and over are the ones who are really cancelling, because you know they just don’t want to travel and face any problems.”

According to health officials, the elderly fall within the “at-risk” category for the coronavirus virus.

T&T Chamber of Commerce president Gabriel Faria also told Guardian Media the impact to the travel sector was expected given globa spread of the virus.

“It’s recognised that people would be hesitant to travel at a time like this, so there is some impact to reduced travel and I think this is just a natural outcome of what is expected,” Faria said.

Since the outbreak, officials have cautioned against any unnecessary travel, especially to those regions where the virus is prominent.

As of March 2, there were 88,948 confirmed cases worldwide with 8,774 cases in 64 countries apart from China.

Despite confirmed cases in the Caribbean, the region’s risk assessment from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) remains “moderate to high” according to its most recent situation report dated March 2.