Apple Closes its Retail Stores, Vets Apps Related to COVID-19

Due to the coronavirus, Apple closed its retail stores outside of mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The move will shutter 450 stores in 21 countries until March 27. Apple chief executive Tim Cook noted that, “the most effective way to minimize risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance.” Employees of the stores will continue to be paid. The company is also paying special attention to apps related to the coronavirus, to weed out misinformation and inappropriate content.

The New York Times reports that, in January, Apple shut down 42 stores in China due to the virus but, as new cases there decrease, its stores there have reopened. Since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, “supply chains have been disrupted; planes have flown nearly empty; and sports stadiums, theaters and museums have closed their doors … [although] so far, retail stores had mostly remained open.”

Another retailer that shut down is outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia, which closed down until late March. Starbucks said it would consider closing stores as a “last resort” after one employee at a downtown Seattle store “was confirmed to have the virus.”

Apple was hard hit in China in the early days of the virus’ spread, “because it makes nearly all its products in the country and sells about a fifth of them there.” Its factories and stores there were closed for weeks, with “many Chinese residents confined to their homes,” leading Apple “to cut its sales forecast for the quarter.”

Now, Foxconn, Apple’s largest supplier in China, announced that its factories are at 50 percent capacity, and “that it aimed to resume full production by the end of the month.” Apple’s annual June conference for software developers will take place online and the company has “already asked most of its employees around the world to work at home.”

TechCrunch reports that Apple is closely vetting apps related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re evaluating apps critically to ensure data sources are reputable and that developers presenting these apps are from recognized entities such as government organizations, health-focused NGOs, companies deeply credentialed in health issues, and medical or educational institutions,” said the company. “Only developers from one of these recognized entities should submit an app related to COVID-19.”

To expedite relevant apps, Apple asked developers to check the “Time-Sensitive Event’ option; it will also waive “some annual membership fees for non-profit orgs and government agencies looking to develop apps related to the outbreak.” Apple also stated it will ban entertainment apps and games “looking to capitalizing on the ubiquitous and life-threatening subject matter.”

Apple Makes WWDC Online-Only, Amid COVID-19 Concerns, TechCrunch, 3/13/20