South Africa’s Woolworths Holdings has closed all Country Road Group stores in Australia for four weeks and will stand down 5000 employees there who will not be paid during the period in a bid to restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

After more than 4000 cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths in Australia, the country has urged its 25 million citizens to stay at home, leaving many shops deserted.

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 practise 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.

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