Sports Direct bosses have told staff its stores will stay open because they are vital to the health of the nation.

On Monday night the prime minister announced a lockdown in the UK including closing all shops selling non-essential goods,​ including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.

He also made it clear that only key workers should be travelling to work and people should only be going to shops in order to buy food or collect medicines and prescriptions.

But in a letter to staff of Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, Finance chief Chris Wootton appeared to suggest the company’s outlets are essential in the fight against COVID-19 and that staff were therefore key workers.

We stock a huge range of sports equipment designed for exercising at home… indeed home fitness is the number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself, he wrote.

Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the Government’s current social distancing guidance).

There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population.

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The decision by the group to keep its shops open appear at odds with the reaction of the British Retail Consortium to the new anti-coronavirus measures.

Chief Executive Helen Dickinson said: Retailers understand the need for government to act quickly and decisively to protect public health and combat coronavirus.

The safety of customers and staff is paramount, which is why retailers have responded swiftly and positively to evolving government guidance on social distancing and other hygiene matters. Indeed, many retailers had gone further and already closed shops temporarily.

(c) Sky News 2020: Coronavirus: Sports Direct suggests staff are key workers and says stores will stay open