China’s decision to lock down the city of Wuhan, ground zero for the global COVID-19 pandemic, may have prevented more than 700,000 new cases by delaying the spread of the virus, researchers said Tuesday.
China’s decision to lock down the city of Wuhan, ground zero for the global COVID-19 pandemic, may have prevented more than 700,000 new cases by delaying the spread of the virus, researchers said Tuesday.
Drastic Chinese control measures in the first 50 days of the epidemic bought other cities across the country valuable time to prepare and install their own restrictions, according to the paper by researchers in China, the United States and the UK, published in the journal Science.
By day 50 of the epidemic — February 19 — there were 30,000 confirmed cases in China, said Oxford fellow Christopher Dye, one of the paper’s authors.
“Our analysis suggests that without the Wuhan travel ban and the national emergency response there would have been more than 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of Wuhan by that date,” he was quoted as saying in a press release.
“China’s control measures appear to have worked by successfully breaking the chain of transmission — preventing contact between infectious and susceptible people.”
The researchers used a combination of case reports, public health information and mobile phone location tracking to investigate the spread of the virus.
The phone tracking provided a “fascinating” new stream of data, said another of the report’s authors, Penn State biology professor Ottar Bjornstad.
The time period they studied encompassed China’s biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year.
The researchers “were able to compare patterns of travel into and out of Wuhan during the outbreak with cell phone data from two previous spring festivals,” Bjornstad said.
“The analysis revealed an extraordinary reduction in movement following the travel ban of January 23, 2020. Based on this data, we could also calculate the likely reduction in Wuhan-associated cases in other cities across China.”
The Wuhan shutdown delayed the arrival of the virus in other cities, their model showed, giving them time to prepare by banning public gatherings and closing entertainment venues, among other measures.
Nearly half of humanity has now been told to stay home to curb the spread of the virus, and lockdowns are rapidly becoming normalized.
But when Beijing first shut down Wuhan more than two months ago, the decision was seen as a dramatic escalation in the fight against infection.
With the restrictions in the city slowly being lifted and life inching closer to normal, the question for China — and other countries around the globe — is what will happen once movement resumes.
“We are acutely aware that resident or imported infections could lead to a resurgence of transmission,” said another of the report’s authors, Huaiyu Tian, an associate professor of epidemiology at Beijing Normal University.
China and the United States should “unite to fight” the deadly coronavirus pandemic, President Xi Jinping said in a call with Donald Trump on Friday, as he called for the US to improve relations.
The two countries have clashed in recent weeks over the virus, and Chinese state media said Xi told Trump he hoped the “US will take substantive actions to improve Sino-US relations.”
He also called for the two countries to work together to tackle the virus and said Beijing “wishes to continue sharing all information and experience with the US”, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Trump sounded a positive tone, tweeting that he had a “very good conversation” with Xi, and that both leaders discussed the pandemic “in great detail”.
“China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the virus. We are working closely together. Much respect,” he wrote.
Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo angered Beijing this month by repeatedly referring to “the Chinese virus” when discussing the COVID-19 outbreak first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Trump has since dropped the term amid accusations of racism, in another small sign of easing tensions between the two world powers.
Earlier this month a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing also suggested in a tweet that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan.
This prompted Trump to accuse China of spreading misinformation, and the US president repeatedly attacked China’s lack of transparency and the slowness of its initial response to the outbreak.
Xi said Sino-US relations were at a “critical juncture”, CCTV reported, adding that cooperation was mutually beneficial and “the only right choice.”
Friday’s call also took place as the US overtook China as the country with the most confirmed coronavirus cases — the pathogen has now infected more than 82,400 people in the world’s largest economy.
During the call, Xi said China had shared information about the epidemic with the World Health Organization and other countries including the US in a “timely” manner throughout.
“Infectious diseases are the common enemy of mankind, and do not recognise borders or races,” said Xi.
Some provinces, cities and companies in China have provided medical supplies and support to the US as well, Xi added.
At an emergency videoconference chaired by Saudi Arabia Thursday — which both Xi and Trump joined — G20 nations pledged a “united front” in the fight against the coronavirus.
The group said they would inject $5 trillion into the global economy to counter the pandemic amid forecasts of a deep recession.
Spain’s coronavirus death toll overtook that of China on Wednesday, rising to 3,434 after another 738 people died as Madrid announced a multi-million-euro deal with Beijing for critical supplies.
The spike in fatalities means that across the globe, only Italy — with 7,503 deaths — now has a higher death toll than Spain.
In China, where the virus emerged late last year, the COVID-19 epidemic has claimed 3,281 lives.
The latest figures were announced as Spain entered the 11th day of an unprecedented lockdown to try and rein in the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has now infected 47,610 people, the health ministry said.
Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, who has been in hospital since Monday, has tested positive for the virus and is improving, the government said.
Two other ministers in Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government are infected.
The surge in numbers has brought the medical system to the brink of collapse, with Spain struggling with a lack of medical supplies for testing, treatment and the protection of frontline workers, and a growing number of cases among healthcare personnel with more than 5,400 infected.
To address the shortages, Health Minister Salvador Illa said the government had inked a major deal with China.
Worth some 432 million euros ($467 million), the deal will cover 550 million masks, 5.5 million rapid test kits, 950 respirators and 11 million pairs of gloves, he told a televised news conference.
“We have secured entire production chains (in China) which will be working solely for the Spanish government,” he said.
The supplies will be delivered “on a staggered basis, every week, with the first — a major delivery — arriving at the end of this week,” he said.
He also said Spain would continue producing its own materials on a national level.
– NATO help sought –
The announcement came a day after Spain’s armed forces asked NATO for humanitarian assistance to secure supplies to help curb the spread of the virus both in the military and in the civilian population.
The request specified 450,000 respirators, 500,000 rapid testing kits, 500 ventilators and 1.5 million surgical masks.
Despite the national lockdown imposed on March 14, which is to be extended until April 11, both deaths and infections have continued to mount, with officials warning this week would be particularly bad.
“We are approaching the peak,” the ministry’s emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon said in announcing the figures.
Health authorities are hoping it will soon become clear whether the lockdown is having the desired effect.
The Madrid region has suffered the brunt of the epidemic with 14,597 infections — just under a third of the total — and 1,825 deaths, or 53 percent of the national figure.
Madrid mayor Jose Luis Martinez Almeida warned the coming days would be “complicated” “psychologically” for the entire city.
– Airbus resumes production-
With hospitals on the brink of collapse, troops have set up a massive field hospital in Madrid’s vast IFEMA exhibition centre which currently has 1,500 beds but which could be expanded to take in up to 5,500 people — making it the largest hospital in Spain.
And with the city’s funeral services overwhelmed, officials have commandeered the Palacio de Hielo ice skating rink to serve as a temporary morgue.
In a separate development, unions have been up in arms over a decision by Airbus to resume production in Spain, despite the outbreak, saying it endangered workers’ lives.
So far, a total of 138 employees have tested positive for the virus with hundreds more in quarantine, but the European plane-maker resumed production on Monday, prompting unions to call an indefinite strike.
The head of the World Health Organization believes China’s battle with the coronavirus offers a beacon of hope, but others question whether Beijing’s strategy can be followed by other countries — particularly Western democracies.
China has reported only one new local infection over the past four days, a seemingly remarkable turnaround given the chaos that surrounded the initial outbreak in the city of Wuhan.
While some experts caution against accepting Beijing’s figures at face value, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted China’s success “provides hope for the rest of the world”.
But China is a particular case — a centrally-controlled, top-down, one-party authoritarian state that allows no dissent and can mobilise vast resources on a single issue.
– Close down and contain –
In January, China effectively shut down Wuhan and placed its 11 million residents in effective quarantine — a move it then replicated in the rest of Hubei province, putting 50 million people in mass isolation.
Across the rest of the country, residents were strongly encouraged to stay at home.
Hundreds of millions of Chinese live in closed residential complexes where neighbourhood committees can police movement in and out — meaning compliance could be closely monitored.
“Containment works,” Sharon Lewin, professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne, told AFP. “Two weeks after the closure of Wuhan, which is exactly the incubation period, the number (of infections) started to drop.”
Extreme social distancing and home quarantines have been used to differing degrees by a rising number of European countries, with some US states following suit.
But an Imperial College London study warned that while that strategy appeared to have succeeded to date in China, it carried “enormous social and economic costs” in the short and long term.
“The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package …. will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more),” it said.
If the intervention is relaxed, transmission rates “will quickly rebound”, it added.
– Mass mobilisation –
At least 42,000 doctors and medical personnel were sent to Hubei province to shore up the province’s health services which had, according to public health professor Zheng Zijie from Peking University, essentially “collapsed” under the strain of the fast-spreading epidemic.
Health experts from China’s Red Cross are currently helping overwhelmed hospitals in Italy, which has fast overtaken China as the worst hit country in terms of coronavirus deaths.
China’s ability to mobilise small armies of medical workers did not come with protection from contagion. More than 3,300 medical staff were infected across the country and 13 have died from COVID-19, according to health ministry figures published early March.
Government efforts in China were backed by an arsenal of propaganda, with messages repeated incessantly in the media and large street banners calling on citizens to be hygienic and stay home.
In an extraordinary effort — trumpeted by state media — two new hospitals with a total capacity of 2,300 beds were built in Wuhan within 10 days.
– Masks and checks –
In cities, it quickly became necessary to wear a mask as apartment blocks, businesses and even parks barred entry without one.
Widespread mask use may have helped slow the spread of the disease, “particularly when there are so many asymptomatic virus carriers”, Zheng said.
During the crisis China produced up to 1.6 million N95 respirator masks per day, according to the official Xinhua news agency. These are considered the most effective protection, but need to fit correctly and be changed often.
To boost detection rates, temperature checkpoints were installed outside buildings and shops, or in public places.
“If it’s higher than 37.3 degrees Celsius (99.1 Fahrenheit), you are put in isolation,” one guard at the entrance to a park in Beijing told AFP.
And in the high-tech country where privacy is limited, many localities require citizens to show a QR code on their phone that rates them as “green”, “yellow” or “red”.
This assessment — based on tracking of whether they visited a high-risk zone — is now an entrance requirement for many businesses.
Government announcements have made clear that the coding system will remain in use in some form even after the pandemic subsides.\
China reported no new local cases of the deadly coronavirus for a third consecutive day Saturday, but confirmed the highest yet increase in infections from abroad.
The rate of infection has been slowing for weeks in China, while the rest of the world steps up measures to try and battle the raging pandemic.
The World Health Organization on Friday praised China’s success in controlling the outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged late last year.
“Wuhan provides hope for the rest of the world that even the most severe situation can be turned around,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference in Geneva.
Some 56 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province were locked down in late January, but authorities are progressively easing the travel curbs as cases have dwindled.
However, China has stepped up controls to tackle infections brought in from other countries, with another 41 cases reported Saturday — the highest one-day tally yet.
In total, 269 cases have now been brought into China from abroad. Beijing and other regions are forcing international arrivals to go into a 14-day quarantine, while the civil aviation ministry said this week it would limit passenger numbers on inbound international flights.
There have been over 81,000 cases in China, but the health commission said only 6,013 were still ill with the disease.
The number of deaths has also slowed dramatically, with seven new fatalities reported Saturday, all in Hubei province.
As the crisis shifts from Asia to Europe, China’s death toll — now at 3,255 — was overtaken this week by Italy, where more than 4,000 people have now died.
The outbreak has infected more than 250,000 people around the world with more than 11,000 worldwide fatalities.
Beijing accused US President Donald Trump on Friday of trying to “shift the blame” for the global coronavirus pandemic in an escalating row between the two powers.
Trump charged Thursday that the world is “paying a big price” for China’s lack of transparency on the outbreak when it emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
China has been criticised for suppressing information and punishing whistleblowers during the early stages of the contagion, which an AFP tally shows has now killed nearly 10,000 people with more than 232,000 cases worldwide.
“Some people on the US side are trying to stigmatise China’s fight against the epidemic, and shift the blame onto China,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
“This approach ignores the great sacrifice made by the Chinese people to safeguard the health and safety of humankind, and slanders China’s major contribution to global public health.”
Geng said China has shared data with the US throughout the health crisis.
The exchange marked an escalation in the bitter war of words between China and the US over the past week.
China’s announcement this week of mass expulsions of American journalists sparked a media freedom row that coincided with Trump’s ramped-up usage of the term “Chinese Virus”, which he claimed was in response to Chinese misinformation suggesting that the virus originated in the US.
In recent days, Chinese state media has been heavily critical of Trump.
The nationalistic Global Times claimed in several op-eds that his rhetoric is fanning the flames of global xenophobia and anti-Chinese sentiment.
Trump has defended his description of the virus, saying it was “not racist at all”.
Italy passed a grim milestone on Thursday when it overtook China as the country with most reported deaths from the new coronavirus sweeping the planet.
The world has stepped up its war to try to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19, with several countries imposing lockdowns that are keeping tens of millions of people trapped in their homes.
But the death toll has soared in Europe even as China saw a glimmer of hope with zero new domestic cases reported for the first time.
Italy announced another 427 fatalities on Thursday, taking its total to 3,405, according to an AFP tally.
China, where the outbreak first emerged in December last year, has officially reported 3,245 deaths.
Globally, the death toll from the virus — whose main symptoms are a dry cough and fever — has risen to over 9,000.
Countries have tightened border controls and unleashed nearly a trillion dollars to prop up the teetering world economy, only to see the once-in-a-century pandemic seemingly spiral further out of control.
China listed no new domestic infections for the first time since the outbreak first erupted in the central city of Wuhan in December, before spreading worldwide.
It appeared to have staunched the virus with strict measures including a complete quarantine of Wuhan since January, meaning the number of infections and deaths in the rest of the world have surpassed those in China.
But there were fears that Asia faces a second wave of cases imported from abroad, with 34 new cases reported in China, the highest figure for two weeks.
– ‘Paying a big price’ –
US President Donald Trump, who has come under fire for his response to the crisis, charged Thursday that the world was paying for China’s lack of transparency on the outbreak of the new coronavirus there several months ago.
“It could have been contained to that one area of China where it started. And certainly the world is paying a big price for what they did,” he said.
As the toll surged in his country, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the national lockdown, which has been copied around Europe, would be prolonged to April 3, shattering hopes of a quick end to the crisis.
“We will not be able to return immediately to life as it was before,” he said.
France also mooted extending the two-week lockdown ordered this week by President Emmanuel Macron, as the interior minister blasted “idiots” who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk.
The disease continued to hit high-profile figures with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Monaco’s Prince Albert II among those testing positive.
– Bank bazooka –
With countries paralysed by the pandemic and stock markets imploding, policymakers this week unleashed a wave of measures to shore up the global economy.
The European Central Bank late Wednesday announced a 750-billion-euro bond-buying scheme, dubbed the “big bazooka”.
“Extraordinary times require extraordinary action. There are no limits to our commitment to the euro,” ECB chief Christine Lagarde said.
In the United States, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is urging Congress to pass a $1-trillion emergency stimulus package immediately, with many economists saying the US is already now in deep recession.
Trump has said he views himself as a “wartime president”, even as his administration faced growing criticism over a lack of testing for coronavirus and for the speed of its response.
The US has so far shied away from the sweeping restrictions used in China and many European countries, although the streets of many of its major cities have emptied as local curbs come into effect.
European and US stocks staged a rebound on the stimulus news, although Asian markets took another beating.
But the sense of impending doom continues to cast a pall over the world economy with airlines, carmakers and others all warning of bleak times ahead.
– ‘Enemy against humanity’ –
The battle is only just beginning across the rest of the world, with the shadow of the virus lengthening across Africa.
The Nigerian mega-city of Lagos announced it would shut its schools while Burkina Faso confirmed the first death in sub-Saharan Africa.
Russia reported its first death and even the Pacific nation of Fiji said it had its first case.
The UN warned that as nations bring in shutdowns and travel bans, some three billion people lack even the most basic weapons to protect themselves from the virus: soap and running water.
World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to “come together as one against a common enemy: an enemy against humanity”.
Countries are taking increasingly drastic steps to stem infections, with Australia and New Zealand banning non-residents from arriving, and India imposing a one-day nationwide curfew.
Britain closed dozens of London Underground stations and shut down schools, although the government denied reports it was about to lock down the capital.
– ‘Like a psychosis’ –
While the EU has closed its borders to outsiders, in many countries bars, restaurants and most shops have closed their doors until further notice, bringing life in Europe’s normally bustling cities to a halt.
The virus also continues to hit sports and cultural events, with Greece handing over the Olympic flame to Tokyo 2020 organisers at a ceremony held behind closed doors amid calls for the games to be postponed.
English football also extended its shutdown until at least April 30.
Interpol warned that criminals around the world were cashing in on the pandemic by offering fake or sub-standard medical products like surgical masks.
Countries are also working to combat hoarding.
As others stockpiled toilet paper and pasta, the French are thronging bakeries for their famed baguettes.
“We’ve seen people come in who want to buy 50 baguettes at a time,” said Matthieu Labbe of France’s Federation of Bakeries. “There’s something like a psychosis in some people,”
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan says the country cannot afford the large-scale lockdowns undertaken in the West, fearing this could devastate the fragile economy.
– Economic concerns –
German carmaker BMW says it will close European and South African factories accounting for half its output for a month.
The Trump administration and the US Central Bank announce massive financial assistance to the most affected businesses and households.
– State of emergency –
Switzerland, Armenia, Moldova and Kazakhstan as well as two regions in Ukraine and one in Kyrgyzstan declare a state of emergency. Brazil’s two largest cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, announce the same.
– Global toll tops 8,000 –
Since the virus first emerged in late December, 8,092 people have died around the world, with the global number of cases at 200,680, according to an AFP tally based on official sources as of 1300 GMT Wednesday.
The worst affected countries are mainland China, with 3,237 deaths, out of 80,894 cases, of whom 69,601 have been cured. Italy follows with 2,503 deaths, 31,506 cases, Iran 1,135 deaths, around 17,000 cases, Spain 558 deaths and 13,716 cases and France with 175 deaths and 7,730 cases.
Turkey, Bangladesh, Moldova and Burkina Faso report their first deaths.
– Britain’s nightmare scenario –
In Britain, scientists say infections and deaths will spiral and hundreds of thousands could die and the health system be swamped if there is only a focus on delaying and slowing infections.
The government’s scientific adviser says a reasonable estimate is 55,000 cases in the country.
Legislation will be introduced Thursday to allow arrests for public health reasons and to call back retired medical services staff.
– Cruise ship stranded –
More than 1,700 people are stranded on a cruise and a cargo ship off the coast of South Africa’s Cape Town over fears some are infected.
– Pope advises gestures of affection –
Pope Francis stresses the importance of families and friends making small gestures such as hugs and phone calls during times of isolation.
China on Wednesday effectively ordered American journalists at the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to leave the country in the Communist government’s most severe move against foreign media in recent memory.
The foreign ministry said in a statement the measure was in retaliation for Washington’s decision to cut the number of Chinese nationals allowed to work for Chinese state-run media on American soil.
Starting from Wednesday, the journalists, whose press cards were due to expire later this year, must notify the foreign ministry within four days and hand back their credentials within 10 days, the ministry said.
“They will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People’s Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions,” the statement said.
China has already expelled three other Wall Street Journal reporters — two Americans and one Australian — over what it deemed a racist headline by the US newspaper.
But those expulsions had also been seen by some observers as a tit-for-tat move over the US decision to reclassify Chinese state-run media operating in the United States as foreign missions.
Beijing on Wednesday also ordered Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Time magazine to declare in writing their staff, finances, operations and real estate in China.
It said it would take unspecified “reciprocal measures” against American journalists “in response to the discriminatory restrictions the US has imposed on Chinese journalists with regard to visa, administrative review and reporting.”
“The above-mentioned measures are entirely necessary and reciprocal countermeasures that China is compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the US,” it said.
“They are legitimate and justified self-defense in every sense.”
Zimbabwe’s vice president Constantino Chiwenga was flown at the weekend to China for medical checks, an official said Tuesday.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba told AFP Chiwenga, a former army general who led President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rise to power following a brief military takeover in 2017, “flew back to China for his medical checkup”.
Chiwenga spent four months undergoing treatment in China last year and returned home in November.
Charamba said Chiwenga had suffered from fatigue in recent days explaining his absence from a function attended by top government officials at Mnangagwa’s farm.
“He was feeling a bit indisposed but he was quite cheerful when he left for China on Sunday,” he said.
Chiwenga, 64, was admitted in a South African hospital last year for a constricted oesophagus. He was later transferred to India when his condition deteriorated before being airlifted to China in July for further medical tests.
The United States and China on Monday each demanded that the other stop smearing its reputation over the novel coronavirus as the pandemic became the latest row between the powers.
The clash came on the day that the World Health Organization said more cases and deaths had been reported in the rest of the world than in China, where the new coronavirus virus was first detected late last year.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a phone call he initiated with top Chinese official Yang Jiechi, voiced anger that Beijing has used official channels “to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States,” the State Department said.
Pompeo “stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat,” the department added.
The State Department on Friday summoned the Chinese ambassador, Cui Tiankai, to denounce Beijing’s promotion of a conspiracy theory that had gained wide attention on social media.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, in tweets last week in both Mandarin and English, suggested that “patient zero” in the global pandemic may have come from the United States — not the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan.
“It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation,” tweeted Zhao, who is known for his provocative statements on social media.
Scientists suspect that the virus first came to humans at a meat market in Wuhan that butchered exotic animals.
‘Stern warning’ to US
Pompeo himself has sought to link China to the global pandemic, repeatedly referring to SARS-CoV-2 as the “Wuhan virus” despite advice from health professionals that such geographic labels can be stigmatizing.
Yang issued a “stern warning to the United States that any scheme to smear China will be doomed to fail,” the official Xinhua news agency said in its summary of the call with Pompeo.
The key Chinese foreign policy leader “noted that some US politicians have frequently slandered China and its anti-epidemic efforts and stigmatized the country, which has enraged the Chinese people,” Xinhua said.
“He urged the US side to immediately correct its wrongful behavior and stop making groundless accusations against China.”
President Donald Trump, under fire over his handling of the pandemic, and his allies have sought to cast the coronavirus as a disease brought by foreigners.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a Trump ally, has spoken of the “Chinese coronavirus” and in a recent statement vowed, “we will hold accountable those who inflicted it on the world.”
While COVID-19 — the disease caused by the virus — has largely come under control in China, it has killed more than 7,000 people around the world and severely disrupted daily life in Western countries.
The pandemic comes at a time of wide-ranging tensions between the United States and China on issues from trade to human rights to Beijing’s military buildup.
Apple is closing all of its stores outside China until March 27 in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, CEO Tim Cook said.
Cook said the firm had learned from steps taken in China, where the tech giant has just reopened its retail stores.
“One of those lessons is that the most effective way to minimize the risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance,” he said in a statement late Friday.
“As rates of new infections continue to grow in other places, we’re taking additional steps to protect our team members and customers.”
Apple’s online store would remain open but office staff outside China would be working remotely if possible, Cook added.
The California-based firm has about 500 stores in 24 countries around the world.
Despite the closures, Cook said hourly workers would continue to be paid as normal.
The CEO said Apple had expanded its leave policy “to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19” including caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantine or childcare due to school closures.
Apple has also donated $15 million to help the fight against the pandemic and will be matching employee donations two-to-one.
“The global spread of COVID-19 is affecting every one of us,” Cook said.
He ended his statement thanking “the heroic first responders, doctors, nurses, researchers, public health experts and public servants” around the world fighting the pandemic.
All of Apple’s 42 stores in China have reopened after being closed since February 1 as the epidemic rapidly spread there.
The shops have been gradually returning to business in the past few days and the last ones reopened on Friday as China slowly resumes work.
Mass quarantines had forced factories to suspend operations and shops to shut.
Apple, which depends on components from Chinese suppliers and has a big market in China, was hammered on both fronts.
Last month, Apple said it would miss its second-quarter revenue forecast and global iPhone supplies would fall because of the epidemic.
The firm had forecast revenue of $63-$67 billion for January-March but did not disclose how much it expected revenue to fall.