PRIMARK has been forced to close stores accounting for nearly a third of its sales, as European governments shut down high streets to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Owner Associated British Foods (AB Foods) said the budget retailer’s stores in France, Spain and Austria were expected to make sales of £190 million over the next four weeks.

They represent about 20 per cent of Primark’s selling space around the world.

Governments in the three countries have forced all non-essential stores to close as they try to put a lid on the spread of Covid-19, which has infected thousands.

READ MORE: Primark warns coronavirus may cause stock shortages in China

The World Health Organisation last week declared that Europe had become the epicentre of a global pandemic.

The outbreak has also seen sales falling elsewhere, as people stay away from high street shops. This includes the UK, where Primark makes 41% of its sales.

“We are managing the business appropriately but do not expect to significantly mitigate the effect of the contribution lost from these sales,” AB Foods said.

There was better news from China. In February Primark had warned that its factories there were closing, which could have a knock-on effect on its supply chain.

Most of the factories which supply it have now re-opened, the company said on Monday. As a result, supply shortages from that country are now expected to be minimal,” AB Foods said in a statement.

“However, with developments over the last week in Italy and, more materially, over the weekend in France, Spain and Austria, stores accounting for 20% of Primark’s selling space are now closed until the respective governments permit them to re-open.”

The company added: “Our priority continues to be the health and safety of our colleagues, customers and partners.” AB Foods said that adjusted operating profit will be ahead, as shares closed at 1,739.5p, down 5%.