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Pedestrians walk past a downtown Toronto Starbucks Coffee location Thursday, May 31, 2018.

Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press

Referring to managing the coronavirus as “the single biggest challenge many of us have faced in our lifetime,” Starbucks Canada has announced it will be closing nearly all of its locations, offering drive-through and delivery services only.

The company made the announcement on Friday, but added that some cafes near hospitals and other health care centres will remain open to serve staff.​ Starbucks also noted that the change only applies to company-owned stores, while licensed partners will make their own decisions for the locations they run. The change was made after a week of retail store closures, and after many restaurants and coffee shops including Starbucks had already scaled back operations in response to concerns about the pandemic.

"This is a crisis that is moving quickly, and we need to stay ahead of it and do our part, recognizing this is often confusing, frustrating and dynamic,"​ Starbucks Canada president Lori Digulla said in a statement, acknowledging that the closures "may come as a surprise or seem sudden" to staff.

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Like other competitors including Tim Hortons, the company had already shut down all in-store seating, stopped filling orders in customers' reusable cups, and ramped up the frequency of cleanings.

"Even so, we’ve all recognized over the last week the challenges and complexities of trying to reduce 'social gathering' in our cafés," Ms. Digulla said in the statement. "...Our cafés in some areas are experiencing high traffic during moments of the day and we need to do more to prevent the spread of this virus."

The cafes will be closed for two weeks​. Starbucks Canada also emphasized that its "catastrophe pay" would apply to any staff choosing to stay home if they worried that coming to work was a risk, and that all employees would be paid for the next 30 days whether or not they carried out their shifts.

While coffee shops are not “essential” services, Ms. Digulla said in the statement, they are among the retailers including gas stations and convenience stores that help alleviate demand pressures on grocery stores.

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