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Nike shoes are seen on display in New York, U.S., March 18, 2019.Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Apple Inc. said it is closing all its retail stores, except those in Greater China, for the next two weeks to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission, a move that was followed by several U.S. retailers on Saturday.

The announcements escalated the global response to the outbreak, as most companies had previously kept stores open.

“We will be closing all of our retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook wrote in a letter posted on the company’s website late on Friday.

Apple reopened all 42 of its branded stores in China on Friday as the number of new cases fell in the country where the coronavirus outbreak originated.

Apple’s hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operation, Mr. Cook said, and online sales will continue as usual.

“In all of our offices, we are moving to flexible work arrangements worldwide outside of Greater China,” he added. “That means team members should work remotely if their job allows.”

U.S. sportswear giant Nike Inc. said on Sunday it is closing all of its stores in the United States and several other countries to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Nike stores in Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand will be closed from March 16 to 27, the company said in a statement.

However, Nike-owned stores in South Korea, Japan, most of China and in many other countries are currently open and will continue their normal operations.

“We are taking additional steps in other Nike-managed facilities, including the option to work from home,” it added.

Earlier this month, Nike had temporarily closed its European headquarters in the Netherlands after an employee was infected with the coronavirus.

On Sunday, Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica Inc. announced that it would close all of its stores in North America and Europe starting on Monday, through March 27. The retailer said it would pay employees for all hours they were scheduled to work during that period.​ As of Nov. 3, Lululemon had 364 stores in North America and 27 in Europe.

"We are living in uncertain times and we’re learning more about this virus every day, CEO Calvin McDonald said in a statement. “We are taking this step to help protect our global community, guests and people, and ensure we are doing our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Also on Sunday, Pacini Restaurants Inc. announced that it would close all of its locations in Canada for two weeks, beginning on Monday. The La Prairie, Que.-based chain operates more than 30 Italian restaurants. “This decision supports the recommendation put forward by political and health authorities to avoid large gatherings in order to effectively fight the coronavirus,” the company said in a statement. It added that employees would “benefit from employment insurance” during the closures, and that the company would donate surplus food to food banks in Quebec.​

Apparel retailer Urban Outfitters Inc., which owns brands including Anthropologie and Free People, said on Saturday it was closing all its consumer stores worldwide until at least March 28.

Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters also said it would continue to pay its store employees while stores are closed.

Verizon Communications Inc. said it was temporarily closing “a number of its stores” across the U.S. in order to expand its work from home policy to include some of its retail employees.

T-Mobile US Inc. said it will temporary close its stores that are located in a shopping mall starting March 16.

Some 153,000 people have been infected around the world and 5,788 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Retailers are bracing for a blow to sales as virus-wary shoppers in Europe and the U.S. stay home.

U.S. retailers including Macy’s Inc., Saks Fifth Avenue and Gap Inc.’s Banana Republic sent notices to shoppers on Thursday saying they were open for business in a move to stem losses because of a steep drop in traffic.

- With files from Susan Krashinsky Robertson

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