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UK retailer GAME keeping its Belong arenas open for now

Update: Retailer has now decided to close them until further notice

Original story, March 18, 2020: UK gaming retailer GAME is keeping its physical store locations open for the time being, and has outlined the precautions it is taking against the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The company has said it is providing hand sanitizer in all stores, and that it is instructing employees to clean all surfaces "regularly."

This includes the gaming stations in its Arenas, which GAME says are being fully cleaned after each use. Additionally, empty stations between players or groups are being left "where possible."

Both Arenas and regular retail stores are remaining open, but Game says it may have to vary opening times or close individual locations due to staff availability.

Finally, Game has cancelled and postponed various tournaments and events across its Arena locations.

Meanwhile, US gaming retailer GameStop has cancelled all its upcoming in-store events and shut down in-store gaming stations, but employees have expressed concerns that they are not being supplied sufficient cleaning products, and are being forced to use existing personal, vacation, or sick leave if ill despite the pandemic.

Update, March 20, 2020: Game's decision to remain open is "having a huge human impact" on its employees, according to one manger.

Speaking with Eurogamer, an anonymous manager working for Game said staff are either having to remain at home and lose money, or go to work and risk infection of spreading the virus.

"Staff are being put under immense stress as we are all worried about loss of earnings," they said.

"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."

Staff who follow government advice to self-isolate will be entitled to statutory sick pay, which is just 94.25 per week; for context, the average price of a one bedroom flat in the UK is around 600 a month.

"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," said one worker.

The state of UK retail is already a precarious one, and earlier this year Game announced plans to close 40 stores across the country.

Update, March 23, 2020: This weekend, GAME announced it has closed its Belong arenas until further notice.

In a statement, the retailer said the decision followed the Government's latest measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

"Although this is extremely disappointing, the welfare of our employees, players and communities is paramount, and we recognise that these new measures help protect that," the company wrote.

Game is working with publishers to arrange free online activities and tournaments to replace events that would have been held in Belong arenas.

Additional reporting by Haydn Taylor and James Batchelor

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