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Apple Datacenter Workers in China Banned From Seeing Family During Lockdown

Nobody knows how long China's pursuit of "zero covid" will last.

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Aerial photo taken on May 24, 2022 shows Apple’s datacenter in southwest China’s Guizhou Province.
Aerial photo taken on May 24, 2022 shows Apple’s datacenter in southwest China’s Guizhou Province.
Photo: Ou Dongqu/Xinhua (Getty Images)

The workers managing Apple’s iCloud datacenter in China, employees of Apple-partner Guizhou Cloud Big Data, haven’t been able to see their families in a week, thanks to a lockdown of the city of Guiyang over covid-19 concerns, according to a new report from Bloomberg News.

The datacenter is operating under a so-called “closed loop” system, which means that workers can’t leave and are currently living at their workplace until the lockdown is lifted. And it’s not clear when the lockdown might be eased, or when the workers might get to see their families again.

“Faced with a dire situation, we need courageous people on the front lines,” Guizhou Cloud Big Data said in a social media post on WeChat, according to an English language translation by Bloomberg.

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The datacenter, which opened in 2017, houses all Apple user data in China, including photos, videos, and documents that are stored in iCloud. Apple was required to contract with Cloud Big Data, owned by the Chinese government, under a provision of Chinese law that forces all data on Chinese users to be held on Chinese soil.

Residents in most of Guiyang, which has been touted in recent years as a tech hub to both foreign and domestic companies alike, have been banned from leaving their homes, except to get tested for covid-19, over the past week. Apple did not immediately respond to emailed questions from Gizmodo early Thursday.

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China reported just 1,439 new cases of covid-19 and no new deaths on Thursday in the country of 1.4 billion people, according to China’s National Health Commission. Though it should be noted Chinese state media touted Thursday’s numbers as just 241 new cases, which are the cases that meet two criteria: local transmission and symptomatic. Beijing has avoided counting asymptomatic cases in its daily tallies, though the data is still available. The National Health Commission’s daily covid-19 updates also bury the number of asymptomatic cases, 1,159 on Thursday, lower in the report.

By contrast, the U.S. reported over 144,000 new covid-19 cases on Wednesday and 829 new deaths, according to the New York Times. The U.S. population is just 330 million people, which makes the numbers even more stark.

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China has faced criticism for its draconian pursuit of eradicating covid-19—which has seen the country use brutal tactics to stop spread of the disease. And while China won’t be winning any awards for human rights, its approach has been effective at keeping its population protected from the virus. You can even see its effectiveness in life expectancy, a metric in which China recently surpassed the U.S. for the first time ever, according to Quartz. U.S. life expectancy has dropped to 76.1 years, while China’s has risen to 77.1 years.

Western countries are freer but also more ill. And it looks like that’s a trend that could continue well into the future.