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GAME staff face a worrying week as stores stay open amid the coronavirus outbreak

UPDATE: GAME warns of possible closures.

UPDATE 19th March 2020: GAME has sent an email to customers warning stores may close amid the coronavirus - but for now the company is keeping them open.

The email revolves around GAME's in-store work to follow government guidelines on preventative measures and deep cleaning. The company said hand sanitiser is provided in all stores and all products and surfaces are being cleaned regularly with anti-bacterial wipes and disinfectant cleaner.

However, GAME said it may have to vary store opening times or in some cases close stores due to staff availability or further direction from the government.

Meanwhile, GAME's warehouses remain open. "We continue to be committed to getting your deliveries to you," GAME said.

As for the Belong Gaming Arenas, GAME said it's keeping those open, too, but it's employing deep cleaning measures, such as cleaning each gaming station following each customer's session. It's also leaving empty desks between players and groups of players.

However, GAME has yet to comment on Eurogamer's story about the concerns of staff at GAME amid the coronavirus. Those concerns look set to continue now Doom Eternal is on sale and with Animal Crossing: New Horizons set to launch tomorrow.

ORIGINAL STORY 18th March 2020: GAME staff face a worrying week as stores stay open to sell big releases Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal.

The UK's sole specialist high street gaming retailer has 247 stores nationwide, and staff at those stores have told Eurogamer they face an impossible decision: stay at home and lose money, or go to work and risk catching Covid-19 - or spreading it.

GAME York took to Twitter to encourage people to buy Doom Eternal from its shop today. The tweet was deleted.

GAME, it seems, is keeping its stores open even as government advice intensifies and other retailers shut up shop. GAME is selling id Software's first-person shooter from today, 18th March, three days before its official release date, while Nintendo Switch exclusive Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which is expected to be one of the biggest releases of the year, goes on sale on 20th March. No midnight launches, we understand, are planned.

"This is having a huge human impact," one GAME manager, who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisal from management, told Eurogamer.

"Staff are being put under immense stress as we are all worried about loss of earnings. Obviously we don't want to spread the virus if anyone comes down with symptoms but we are equally worried about how we are going to get by. We want to share our passion for some great releases but we're worried about what that could mean for our health."

One person said they expect GAME to offer either statutory sick pay or company sick pay, which amounts to one week's worth of contracted hours for every year of service. But this would not come close to matching the pay staff expect in a standard week. Most GAME staff who are not upper management are on low hours contracts, such as four to eight hours a week, but will regularly work 20 or more hours a week, we were told.

"Many are having to grapple with the idea of staying at home and losing all income or coming in with symptoms and risking spreading the virus because they can't afford to self-isolate," one source said.

There is criticism of the government's advice, too. One member of staff called on the government to demand the closure of the high street with staff on full pay. "If the government can find £330bn to deal with this crisis it can put some of that money to protecting jobs and livelihoods," one person said. Staff we spoke to believe GAME will power through the weekend by keeping shops open until they are told to close stores by the government.

Meanwhile, GAME staff have told Eurogamer they have received updated notices throughout the coronavirus outbreak with the latest official advice, and have been sent revised cleaning instructions. Cleaning rotas seen by Eurogamer reveal some areas are to be cleaned every 72 hours, some daily, some every three hours and some facilities before each use. Door frames, for example, must be cleaned every 72 hours. TV controls and remotes must be cleaned daily. Stock waiting to be re-displayed after being brought to the counter by customers must be cleaned regularly. And testing pads and equipment must be cleaned before each use.

One member of staff told Eurogamer they were told to keep just one till open to reduce staff exposure to customers, but this had the knock-on-effect of creating queues.

"With no extra hours to cater for the increased workload many of the managers aren't even implementing the cleaning rotas because they're completely illogical," one person said.

"We're meant to clean door handles every three hours but if we're handling money, trading in games, consoles and phones all the cleaning is relatively futile as it only limits exposure between staff. It doesn't reduce the likelihood of customers transmitting the virus to staff which is going to be where the majority of the issue is going to come from."

The coronavirus outbreak hits GAME at a turbulent time for the company and the high street. GAME recently closed 40 stores and triggered a round of redundancies as the transition to digital hits hard. Staff have told Eurogamer they're already seeing reduced footfall, which they suspect has to do with social distancing and self-isolation. If the crisis is expected to last up to 18 months, will GAME survive long enough to see it through?

We've asked GAME for a comment on this story and will update if it responds.

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