A giant Apple logo can be seen as customers wait for the new Apple iPad 2 in front of the Apple-store in the southern German city of Munich. File / AFP
Tech giant Apple is closing its stores outside of China for two weeks and will only sell online as part of efforts to fight the global viral pandemic.
"In our workplaces and communities, we must do all we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” CEO Tim Cook tweeted on Saturday. "Apple will be temporarily closing all stores outside of Greater China until March 27 and committing $15m to help with worldwide recovery."
In a lengthier online statement, Cook said that Apple’s stores in China have all now reopened and what the company has learned there has helped it develop "best practices that are assisting enormously in our global response.”
One of the lessons Apple learned in China is that "the most effective way to minimise risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximise social distance," he said. That's why the company is taking new steps to protect workers and customers as the infection rate rises in other places.
Apple’s online stores remain open. Workers will continue to be paid and office staff will work remotely if possible, Cook said in the statement issued on Friday.
The California-based firm has about 500 stores in 24 countries around the world.
CEO Tim Cook poses for a photograph. File photo
Despite the closures, Cook said hourly workers would continue to be paid as normal.
The CEO said Apple had expanded its leave policy "to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19" including caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantine or childcare due to school closures.
Apple has also donated $15 million to help the fight against the pandemic and will be matching employee donations two-to-one.
"The global spread of COVID-19 is affecting every one of us," Cook said.
He ended his statement thanking "the heroic first responders, doctors, nurses, researchers, public health experts and public servants" around the world fighting the pandemic.
All of Apple's 42 stores in China have reopened after being closed since Feb.1 as the epidemic rapidly spread there.
The company has hundreds of retail stores worldwide, including 42 in China that closed or operated with reduced hours at the height of the country's outbreak.
The announcement came hours after Apple said its annual Worldwide Developers Conference would take place entirely online this year. Thousands of engineers and customers attend the event in San Jose, California, which is in its 31st year.
The virus has infected 137,000 people worldwide. Most patients have only mild or moderate symptoms and recover fully, but the elderly and people with existing health conditions are particularly vulnerable. More than 5,000 have died.
With the disease tearing around the globe and three billion people locked down, countries are desperate to find ways to stop its terrifying spread and deal with a shock that could surpass the Great Depression.
The decision comes a day after two cases of coronavirus were reported in Pakistan. Both the infected people had recently visited Iran, where the number of people affected by the virus has grown drastically in the past few days. Health officials have said both were "stable."
Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the Health Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where both victims died, told AFP the men had recently travelled internationally.
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