Apple announced on Friday that it was closing all of its stores worldwide, except for those in China, for two weeks until March 27 to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, which has steadily ravaged communities worldwide and forced millions into lockdown.
In a statement, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple had learned from its experience with the coronavirus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19, in China. One of the lessons the company learned, Cook said, was that the most effective way to fight the coronavirus was keeping people away from each other for the time being.
“One of those lessons is that the most effective way to minimise risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximise social distance,” Cook said in the statement.
The measures do not include Apple’s 42 stores in China, which had been closed since February because of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. But things have shifted in China over the past few weeks, with only 11 confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, per the World Health Organisation. Apple had been gradually reopening stores in the region in recent weeks, and had reopened all stores on Friday.
Although Apple will be closing stores elsewhere, Cook said that the company was still “committed to providing exceptional service to our customers.” As such, he said that Apple’s online stores would remain open and that customers would still be able to receive service and support through the company’s website.
For employees, Apple said that it is moving to flexible work arrangements worldwide outside of China and adopting new health measures at its offices.
“That means team members should work remotely if their job allows, and those whose work requires them to be on site should follow guidance to maximise interpersonal space,” Cook said. “Extensive, deep cleaning will continue at all sites. In all our offices, we are rolling out new health screenings and temperature checks.”
Despite closures and remote working, Apple said that its hourly workers would continue to receive pay in line with “business as usual operations.” Tech giants including Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google and Twitter have also vowed to give their hourly workers, which could see their work affected by reduced work hours and staffing requirements, their regular way during the outbreak.
Cook also announced that Apple had expanded its leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19. Apple’s policies now cover recovering from an illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining or childcare challenges due to school closures.
In the statement, Cook announced that Apple’s committed donations to the COVID-19 response have reached $US15 ($24) million. He also said that the company would match its employees’ donations to support response efforts on an international level.
Besides closing stores, Apple announced this week that it would hold its annual WWDC event online in June. Additionally, it confirmed to Gizmodo today that it would allow Apple Card customers to skip their March payment without incurring interest because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“There is no mistaking the challenge of this moment,” Cook said. “We do not yet know with certainty when the greatest risk will be behind us.”