Sunday 22 March 2020 3:46 pm

Coronavirus: Primark to close all UK stores as pandemic hits high street

Primark is set to shutter all 189 of its UK stores from tonight as the coronavirus outbreak threatens to bring the UK high street to its knees.

The budget fashion retailer has already closed stores accounting for 20 per cent of its selling space globally, and is now preparing to close its entire store estate.

Read more: Primark owner shares halted after virus sales warning

It comes as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the UK high street, with a number of major chains taking drastic measures to stay afloat amid a slump in footfall caused by social distancing measures.

Debenhams has asked landlords for a five-month rent holiday, while Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop, has closed all stores in the UK and Ireland.

John Lewis, New Look and Pret a Manger are among other high street chains to roll out temporary store closures.

Earlier today it emerged that Primark has cancelled all new orders in anticipation of plummeting demand.

The shock decision by the budget fashion chain, which comes after the force majeure clause in contracts was triggered, will come as a huge blow to suppliers.

“It is an absolute bomb — if they do as they say, they will bring down most of my industry,” one supplier told the Sunday Times, which first reported the move.

It is understood that Primark will pay for any orders that have already been shipped. However, suppliers face non-payment for any orders that have not yet left factories.

“We could not have foreseen that over the course of a week, our stores in every country in which we operate, with the exception of the UK, have had to close,” said chief executive Paul Marchant.

“We have therefore been left with no option but to take this action. We have large quantities of existing stock in our stores, our depots and in transit, that is paid for and if we do not take this action now we will be taking delivery of stock that we simply can’t sell. This is unprecedented action for unprecedented and frankly unimaginable times.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Primark owner ABF warns of long-term supply issues

Primark owner Associated British Foods (ABF) last week warned it did not expect to “significantly mitigate” the impact of the pandemic on sales, causing its share price to crash.

However, shares in ABF closed up more than five per cent on Friday.