Apple will close retail stores worldwide, except for Greater China, until March 27

(Reuters) – Apple Inc (AAPL.O) said closing Friday that it will close all its retail stores, except those in Greater China, for the next two weeks to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission.

The smart phone maker’s announcement intensifies the global response to the outbreak, as most major retailers have kept stores open.

“We will close all our stores outside of Greater China until March 27,” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook in an apple.co/2w768jZ letter posted on the company’s website.

Apple reopened all 42 of its branded stores in China on Friday, when the number of new cases dropped in the country where the coronavirus epidemic originated.

More than 138,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 5,000 have died, according to a Reuters count of government announcements.

Retailers are gearing up for a severe sales blow while consumers of wary viruses in Europe and the United States remain at home. U.S. retailers including Macy’s Inc (M.n), Saks Fifth Avenue and Gap Inc. (GPS.N) Banana Republic sent out notices to buyers on Thursday stating that they were open to business in an attempt to curb losses from a sharp drop in traffic.

Apple’s hourly workers will continue to receive wages in line with normal business, Cook said, and online sales will continue as usual.

“In all our offices, we are moving towards flexible work arrangements around the world outside of Greater China,” he added. “This means that team members should work remotely if their job allows it.”

The company’s donations to the global coronavirus response, to help treat those who are sick and to help reduce economic and community impacts, reached $ 15 million on Friday, Cook wrote in the letter.

Reporting from Rama Venkat in Bangalore; Written by Rama Venkat and Caroline Stauffer; Curated by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Chizu Nomiyama

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