Apple said it is closing all its retail stores outside of "Greater China," which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong, for two weeks to stop the global spread of the coronavirus, CEO Tim Cook announced late Friday night.
In a statement on Apple's website, Cook wrote that in order to minimize the risk of the coronavirus transmission, his company would close stores everywhere "outside of Greater China" until March 27 to maximize social distancing. Apple previously closed stores in that region at the beginning of February. Those stores have now all reopened, according to the company.
“There is no mistaking the challenge of this moment,” Cook wrote. “The entire Apple family is indebted to the heroic first responders, doctors, nurses, researchers, public health experts and public servants globally who have given every ounce of their spirit to help the world meet this moment. We do not yet know with certainty when the greatest risk will be behind us.”
This week, Apple had begun to close stores in other countries including Italy and Spain, two of the European nations hardest hit by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Cook noted that his decision on Friday night was made to protect its retail employees and customers.
Earlier Friday, TechCrunch reported that an Apple Store employee in Santa Monica, California had tested positive for COVID-19. That employee had reportedly been on leave since March 2.
In his letter, Cook also indicated that hourly workers would continue to be paid at their regular rate, and indicated the company had updated its health policies for the outbreak. The move comes after the company previously told employees who could work from home that they should do so.
"All of our hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operations. We have expanded our leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19 — including recovering from an illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining, or childcare challenges due to school closures," Cook wrote.
Earlier this week, Apple announced that it was taking WWDC, its annual developers conference, online-only due to coronavirus concerns, and gave $1 million to organizations in San Jose, where the conference is held, to offset local revenue losses. Cook also said in his Friday note that the company had committed donations of $15 million to the global COVID-19 response.
The company said its online store will remain open, while customers can receive service and support through its website.