South Africa's Woolworths Holdings has temporarily closed all Country Road Group stores in Australia for four weeks and will stand down 5,000 employees there who will not be paid during the period in a bid to restrict the spread of the coronavirus.
After more than 4,000 cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths in Australia, the country has urged its 25 million citizens to stay at home, leaving many shops deserted.
Online Business To Remain Open
As a result, Woolworths closed its Country Road Group stores for four weeks from end of trade on Monday, although its online business will remain open, Woolworths spokeswoman Kirsten Hewett said on Tuesday.
Its small format stores also make it difficult for customers to practice social distancing.
"We regret that the closure of our stores means that our retail team will be stood down during this period," she said.
"We understand that this will put many of our team members under financial pressure and will provide all support possible to our impacted team members, including working in partnership with other Australian businesses who are offering employment opportunities at this time."
The Country Road Group owns Country Road, MIMCO, POLITIX, Witchery and Trenery fashion and luxury accessories retail brands in more than 700 stores in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
David Jones, Woolworths' upmarket department chain in Australia, will keep its large format physical stores open "as long as we are confident that we can operate our stores safely and to the standards required by all current government health and safety directives," Hewett said. It has closed its two smaller stores in Sydney and Brisbane.
In South Africa, Woolworths is only operating its food stores per government regulations during the nationwide 21-day lockdown that started last Thursday midnight.
It is paying all of its staff over this period, with an Extraordinary Difference Award being given to those essential staff working in its food stores, distribution centres and head office.
Its fashion, beauty and home teams are on standby to assist their colleagues in food as needed.
Last week the South African government published a gazette with exemption regulations that allow landlords and retail tenants to negotiate lower rent or rent holidays for retailers and restaurant operators that do not provide essential goods.
Woolworths is "currently engaging and sourcing input on this issue," Hewett said.
The department chain operator is also pausing all new and non-essential capital expenditure requirements as well as reducing other costs, she added.