Closed stores, grounded airlines as COVID-19 limits business

A growing number of retailers are closing stores or limiting their operating hours as customers remain home in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Businesses responding to lower demand, trying to mitigate risks amid outbreak

An almost deserted shopping mall is shown in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

A growing number of retailers are closing stores or limiting their operating hours as customers remain home in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Over the weekend, some Canadian mall owners announced they would cut back shopping hours by as much as 30 per cent for at least the next two weeks.

A shopper uses a hand sanitizer station at a mall in Toronto on Saturday. (Carlos Osorio/Canadian Press)

Starting Monday, Cadillac Fairview, which owns 70 malls across six provinces, will limit operating hours at all its locations to between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. 

Ivanhoe Cambridge, which owns almost 30 malls across six provinces, is suggesting reduced operating hours to its tenants, although mall doors will remain open according to their usual schedules.

Starbucks Canada said people will still be able to make purchases in-store and online, but they'll be encouraged to take items to go and have taken the step of removing seating from its stores.

Starbucks Canada said people will still be able to make purchases in-store and online, but they'll be encouraged to take items to go and have taken the step of removing seating from its stores. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

The coffee chain also said  it's also temporarily closing stores in "high-social gathering locations" such as those in shopping malls and on university campuses and workers whose hours will be affected by the pandemic will get "catastrophe pay."

Outdoor retailer MEC said in an email to its members that it was reducing store hours to noon to 6 p.m. every day — except noon to 5 p.m. on weekends in Quebec — starting today.

Retailers aren't the only ones making changes, as some health clubs are also being affected. Beginning Monday, all GoodLife Fitness and Fit4Less clubs are shut down. Goodlife said all member payments are being suspended as of Tuesday and any paid-in-full memberships will be put on freeze until further notice and expiry dates will be extended. 

Additionally, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced on Sunday that it would temporarily close all casinos in the province by Monday.

As of Sunday afternoon, Canadian health officials have recommenced people avoid gatherings of 250 people or more but have not advised retailers to shutter. However, some businesses are limiting their operations on their own initiative.

U.S. retailers cut hours, close outlets

Walmart in the U.S. said over the weekend it is limiting hours to ensure stores can keep sought-after items such as hand sanitizer in stock. More than 4,700 Walmart and Neighborhood Market locations in the U.S. will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 pm. until further notice. Most Supercentre stores are typically open 24 hours while some Neighborhood stores also have 24-hour service.

Other retailers are following Apple and closing their stores, including Urban Outfitters, Everlane, Lush, Patagonia and Vancouver-based Lululemon.

Some states in the U.S. are closing dine-in restaurants, while locked down European countries like Spain, France and Italy ordered the closures of cafés and restaurants.

New York City's mayor said in a statement late Sunday he's signing an executive order limiting restaurants, bars and cafés to food takeout and delivery only — and also said nightclubs, movie theatres and concert venues will close — while the governor of hard-hit Washington state announced a statewide shutdown of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

Ireland is ordering all pubs and bars to close for two weeks and is urging people not to hold house parties for St. Patrick's Day.

People stand outside a closed bar in Dublin, Ireland, on Sunday. (Aine McMahon/PA via AP)

Infected employees

U.S. supermarket chain Kroger said two of its employees have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and are recovering. One was employed at the King Soopers grocery chain in Colorado, and the other at Fred Meyer, a grocery chain in Washington state. Both are subsidiaries of Kroger's.

The company also said it has enacted an emergency leave policy that allows for paid time off for workers diagnosed with the coronavirus and those placed under a mandatory quarantine by a doctor or public health authority.

Ontario, which has seen the most COVID-19 cases in Canada, planned to table a bill aimed at helping workers affected by the outbreak.

An employee wearing a protective mask is seen in clothing store in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

A statement from Premier Doug Ford's office says the new bill will direct employers to offer protected leave for people affected by the pandemic. It will also waive the requirement for employees to obtain sick notes if they need to go into self-isolation or care for anyone in quarantine. The government did not immediately say when the bill would come before the legislature.

Federally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will help people financially to ensure they can pay their rents or mortgages and buy food, as an increasing number of Canadians are being forced to work from home as more people test positive for the coronavirus.

Airlines, trains pulls back

American Airlines said late Saturday that it is suspending about 75 per cent of its long-haul international flights, starting Monday and lasting through May 6, in response to "decreased demand" and U.S. government travel restrictions. The airline did not announce any layoffs, but is grounding about 135 planes.

It will continue to fly three routes: One daily flight from Dallas to London, a daily flight from Miami to London, and three per week from Dallas to Tokyo. Short-haul flights to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America will continue.

Amid U.S. travel restrictions, travellers coming back to the U.S. faced long lines and hours-long waits for required medical screenings. The dense crowds Saturday at some of the 13 airports where travellers from Europe are being funnelled — among the busiest across the country — formed even as public health officials called for "social distancing" to stem the spread of the pandemic.

United Airlines said it booked $1.5 billion US less revenue in March compared to the same time last year. The airline also said it would cut corporate officers' salaries by 50 per cent and reduce flight capacity by about 50 per cent in April and May, with deep capacity cuts also expected into the summer travel period.

On Sunday, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau's office said no Canadian airports will be closing to domestic flights, but some international flights will be diverted to certain airports. The list of what flights and airports will be affected has not yet been decided.

The union representing WestJet flight attendants is expecting layoffs of more than 50 per cent of its staff as the number of flight cancellations and restrictions continues to mount amid the outbreak — although Mark Porter, an executive vice-president with WestJet, says the numbers being reported were communicated as one of several scenarios being contemplated. 

VIA Rail said it's scaling back service in its corridor from Windsor to Quebec City to comply with government guidelines for social distancing. The company said it will reduce service by 50 per cent in the busy corridor, which includes routes between Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and London, Ont.

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) said it was temporarily halting most of its flights starting Monday due to travel restrictions and the "non-existent demand" for air travel. The company said it will resume flights when "there are yet again conditions to conduct commercial aviation." SAS said it will have to temporarily lay off about 10,000 employees, or about 90 per cent of its workforce.

Air New Zealand said job losses would be necessary as it cut long-haul capacity by 85 per cent over the coming months — in response to strict measures announced by the government — and suspended flights to destinations including San Francisco, London, Buenos Aires, Honolulu and Tokyo.

With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press and Reuters


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