Bosses at Sports Direct have said all its stores will remain open despite the UK lockdown because selling sporting and fitness equipment makes the company a vital asset, according to an email seen by the PA news agency.

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, wrote to all its staff within 30 minutes of Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down all non-essential retailers.

The chief finance officer, Chris Wootton, wrote: “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.

“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.”

Wootton, who sits on the board alongside chief executive and majority owner Ashley, signed off: “Thanks for your incredible efforts during this time.”

In an address to the nation on Monday night, Johnson said restrictions would be tightened so that only essential journeys should be made by key workers.

The prime minister also said people could leave home for exercise, but only with people they are living with, and while maintaining social distancing from others.

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