As countries implement restrictions on travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, data centers are being included in lists of "essential infrastructure," and staff are getting exemptions to enable them to keep facilities online.

Rules and regulations vary between countries and are changing rapidly, but the UK, and the US State of California are among those which have explicitly added telecommunications and digital infrastructure to their plans, exempting them from some measures. In the UK, this means that data center staff may have places for their children in a much-reduced school system.

We need you

lonely business man self isolation Free-Photos Pixabay.jpg
– Pixabay / Free-Photos

California's Governor, Gavin Newsom, issued a "stay at home" order which bans residents from non-essential travel, and effectively closes non-essential businesses. It extends earlier orders which restricted travel in the six Bay Area states.

Newsom estimated that in the next two months, the virus could infect half the population of California, the most populous state in the US with 40 million residents. Most of those will recover, but the travel restrictions are designed to slow the infection rate so essential services can cope.

Residents are allowed to leave the home for exercise, dog walking and to get essential supplies, while those running essential services such as banks, and food stores are allowed to go to work, according to the instruction, also known as a "stay-at-home" order. The exemptions also include critical infrastructure, including digital infrastructure and telecommunications, along with building and food provision.

The restrictions for the six Bay Area counties, published earlier this week, specifically include staff required to deliver "Computing services, business infrastructure, communications, and web-based services." These essential staff are required to carry out those duties "in compliance with Social Distancing Requirements... to the extent possible."

The Bay Area counties' regulations are being more-or-less duplicated in other Californian counties, but they are less rigorous away from the Bay. Legal advice site JDSupra notes, for instance, that Sacramento and Placer County's orders are not mandatory and "true to form, Sonoma County’s order adds cannabis dispensaries," to the list of essential businesses.

Travel exemptions will be vitally important in any region that implements a lockdown, warned Uptime Institute SVP, Fred Dickerson, author of a recent report, Covid-19: Minimizing Critical Facility Risk. Speaking in a webinar advising on responses to Covid-19, he pointed out that travel restrictions will vary, and operators will need to show they have a plan to get through the crisis, along with documenting their essential role in critical infrastructure: "Your plan will help make sure you get travel authorization."

In France, for instance, operators will have to download travel permit forms from the Interior Ministry's website and register. Similar restrictions are in force in Italy, with SuperNAP Italia's Alison Gutman telling DCD: "We’ve given our staff four docs: the Italian government has made publicly available for download, print and compilation an auto-certification required to be carried by anyone who leaves their home, declaring their name, birth date and place, residence, contact info, and the reason for being out.

"In addition, our company has provided a supporting letter that explains that they have a necessity to come to work because we are providing a public utility. Supporting that letter are two documents provided to us by the Minister of Economic Development and AGCOM (agency for communication) that confirm such."

The UK does not yet have formal travel restrictions, but most schools are being closed from Monday 23 March, with some being kept open to provide childcare (not education) for children of "key workers" who cannot get other childcare.

The UK Department of Education has published a list of key workers whose children will be prioritized for schooling. This list includes staff providing essential financial services information technology, telecommunications, and data infrastructure, along with sectors such as sewerage, waste disposal, and food production.