The Coronavirus Outbreak

The tech giant, which will keep its stores in the China region open, becomes one of the first retailers to shut its doors in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

A closed Apple Store in Amsterdam on Saturday. The company plans to keep most of its stores shut until March 27.
A closed Apple Store in Amsterdam on Saturday. The company plans to keep most of its stores shut until March 27.Credit...Olaf Kraak/ANP, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Jack Nicas

OAKLAND, Calif. — Apple said it would close most of its retail stores outside mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, becoming one of the first companies to take such a drastic measure to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

The move signaled that retailers might be the next part of society to shut their doors.

Apple is closing more than 450 stores across 21 countries until March 27. “The most effective way to minimize risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance,” Timothy D. Cook, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement posted on Friday to the company’s website.

Apple said employees at its closed stores would be paid as normal.

Apple’s move was a stark example of how the epicenter of the virus has now spread well beyond China.

The tech giant closed its 42 stores in China in January because of the coronavirus. But now, as the number of people contracting the virus has slowed there and risen sharply elsewhere, Apple has reopened its stores in the China region and closed them everywhere else.

The outbreak, declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has upended societies across much of the world over the past several days as governments and companies responded to the virus’s rapid advancement. Supply chains have been disrupted; planes have flown nearly empty; and sports stadiums, theaters and museums have closed their doors.

So far, retail stores had mostly remained open. But Apple’s move might be a sign that is about to change, as many other companies contemplate similar measures. Patagonia, the outdoor-clothing retailer, said on Friday that it would shut its stores until late March. Starbucks has said it would consider closing stores temporarily as a “last resort,” after an employee at a downtown Seattle location was confirmed to have the virus.

While online shopping could help mitigate the impact of store closures for some retailers, shutting down for even several weeks would further slash sales for most companies, magnifying the toll the coronavirus is already taking on global business.

During the early spread of the virus in China, Apple was one of the Western companies most affected, because it makes nearly all its products in the country and sells about a fifth of them there. The Chinese factories that make the world’s iPhones, iPads and MacBooks were closed for weeks. And with its stores closed and many Chinese residents confined to their homes, Apple’s sales there fell, causing the company to cuts its sales forecast for the quarter.

Now, things appear to be returning to some semblance of normalcy in China for Apple. Its largest supplier, Foxconn, which assembles most iPhones, said this month that its plants were at about 50 percent capacity and that it aimed to resume full production by the end of the month.

Separately on Friday, Apple said its annual conference, which attracts thousands of software developers to a convention center in San Jose, Calif., each June, would be held online. Like many tech companies, Apple had already asked most of its employees around the world to work at home.

  • Updated March 14, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to lung lesions and pneumonia.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can travel through the air, enveloped in tiny respiratory droplets that are produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 152,000 in at least 125 countries and more than 5,700 have died. The spread has slowed in China but is gaining speed in Europe and the United States. World Health Organization officials said the outbreak qualifies as a pandemic.
    • What symptoms should I look out for?
      Symptoms, which can take between two to 14 days to appear, include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, but people may be able to pass on the virus even before they develop symptoms.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The State Department has issued a global Level 3 health advisory telling United States citizens to “reconsider travel” to all countries because of the worldwide effects of the coronavirus. This is the department’s second-highest advisory.
    • How long will it take to develop a treatment or vaccine?
      Several drugs are being tested, and some initial findings are expected soon. A vaccine to stop the spread is still at least a year away.