Nike, Under Armour join retailers shutting stores to limit virus spread

(Reuters) - Nike Inc, Lululemon Athletica Inc and Under Armour Inc on Sunday said they would close stores in the United States and other markets, joining a growing list of major retailers moving to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The virus, which began in China at the end of last year, has led to school closures and canceled sports events in the United States and beyond. It is widely expected to hit retail sales as shoppers stay home to avoid catching the highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory illness that the virus causes.

The United States’ top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said conditions would likely get worse before they get better.

Nike on Sunday said it will close stores in Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand from March 16 to 27. It will continue normal operations at stores in South Korea, Japan, most of China and in many other countries.

“We are taking additional steps in other Nike-managed facilities, including the option to work from home,” the U.S. sportswear firm said in a statement.

Under Armour said it would shutter all North America stores from Monday for about two weeks. Lululemon said it would close its stores in North America and Europe for a similar period.

“We are living in uncertain times and we’re learning more about this virus every day,” Lululemon said in a statement.

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Nike and Lululemon operate over 650 stores combined in the United States, while Under Armour has nearly 190 stores in North America, showed the companies’ latest annual reports. Each said their online stores would continue to be open.

Apparel retailer Lands End Inc and Columbia Sportswear Co also said on Sunday they would temporarily shut all of their stores in the United States and North America respectively.

Gap Inc is temporarily reducing store hours for all of its locations in the United States and Canada, and closing over 100 stores, incoming Chief Executive Sonia Syngal said in a message posted on the company's website here.

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

Last week, retailers including Macy’s Inc and Saks Fifth Avenue sent notices to shoppers saying they were open for business, in a move to stem losses due to a drop in store traffic.

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

Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath and Ismail Shakil; Additional reporting by Ann Maria Shibu; Editing by Diane Craft and Christopher Cushing