Apple, some U.S. retailers close stores to contain virus


(Reuters) – Apple Inc (AAPL.O) said it is closing all its retail stores, except those in Greater China, for the next two weeks to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission, a move that was followed by several U.S. retailers on Saturday.

The announcements escalated the global response to the outbreak, as most companies had previously kept stores open.

Apparel retailer Urban Outfitters Inc. (URBN.O), which owns brands including Anthropologie and Free People, said on Saturday it was closing all of its consumer stores worldwide until at least March 28.

Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ.N) said it was temporarily closing “a number of its stores” across the United States in order to expand its work from home policy to include some of its retail employees.

“We will be closing all of our retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27,” Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a letter posted on the company’s website late on Friday.

Apple reopened all 42 of its branded stores in China on Friday as the number of new cases fell in the country where the coronavirus outbreak originated.

Some 153,000 people have been infected around the world and 5,788 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Retailers are bracing for a blow to sales as virus-wary shoppers in Europe and the United States stay home. U.S. retailers including Macy’s Inc (M.N), Saks Fifth Avenue and Gap Inc.’s (GPS.N) Banana Republic sent notices to shoppers on Thursday saying they were open for business in a move to stem losses due to a steep decline in traffic.

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Apple’s hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operation, Cook said, and online sales will continue as usual.

“In all of our offices, we are moving to flexible work arrangements worldwide outside of Greater China,” he added. “That means team members should work remotely if their job allows.”

Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters also said it would continue to pay its store employees while stores are closed.

Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Writing by Rama Venkat and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis

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