Starbucks closes most U.S., Canada cafes, moves to drive-through

(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) said on Friday it will close most of its company operated cafes across north America for two weeks, limiting its services to drive-throughs, to help stem the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

“Let’s be real. Lattes aren’t ‘essential’,” Rossann Williams, president of U.S. company-operated and Canada businesses, said in a letter. “But in times of crisis, the government asks convenient food and beverage outlets to remain open when possible for pickup, Drive Thru, or delivery.”

Exceptions to the closure would be made for cafes serving in or around hospitals and health care centers, she said.

Starbucks, which owns almost all U.S. stores, said its licensed partners would make independent decisions about whether to close their stores, but said it would pay all store partners for the next 30 days, regardless of that decision.

The move ramps up efforts by the world’s largest coffee chain to increase social distancing, expanding closures beyond the universities, malls and high risk areas it announced several days ago.

As the virus spreads at a rapid pace across the United States, cafe and restaurant operators have shut their doors or limited services to delivery and take-away.

New York state, Illinois and Connecticut on Friday all followed California in directing residents to stay at home in the most sweeping social distancing measures yet imposed.

The unprecedented restrictions, impacting more than 75 million people, or nearly a quarter of the U.S. population, have closed most workplaces and require residents to remain inside except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other “essential businesses.”

The coronavirus has infected nearly 14,400 people across the U.S. and the death toll currently exceeds 200.

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