Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will now remain closed unless the government gives them permission to stay open during the UK coronavirus lockdown.
Bosses earlier claimed the stores are vital to the health of the nation, giving staff so-called key worker status.
Under new measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night, all shops selling non-essential items have been ordered to close immediately. Among those staying open are pharmacies, supermarkets and petrol stations.
He also said that only key workers, which include NHS workers, should be travelling to and from work.
In a letter to staff of Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, finance boss Chris Wootton suggested Sports Direct and Evans Cycles are essential in the fight against coronavirus and that its staff were therefore key workers.
“There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stories to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population,” Wootton said.
“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.”
Wootton later said: “To clarify my earlier message, we will not open our Sports Direct or Evans Stores to the public, even though government policy excludes “bicycle shops” from closure until we are given the go ahead by the government.
“Please note we are contacting them at all levels including attempting to get confirmation from the Prime Minister.”
Michael Gove hit out at Sports Direct’s initial message, which suggested it had planned to keep its stores open. He called on Mike Ashley to “rescind what he said”.
Last week, Sports Direct owner, Frasers Group, issued a profit warning amid “significant disruption” during the coronavirus outbreak.
Yesterday the company said this announcement had “substantially underplayed the effect of the Covid-19 virus on retail when considering the actions that the government has taken since”. As such, it announced the suspension of its share buyback with immediate effect.
Before ratcheting up restrictions last night, the PM had already closed pubs and restaurants amid concerns that people were ignoring social distancing advice.
A number of high street retailers, like Ikea and John Lewis, had already shut prior to Johnson’s announcement as footfall fell dramatically.
In a pre-recorded address on Monday night, he said: “You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine — and you should do this as little as you can. And use food delivery services where you can.”
The address came as the number of UK deaths from coronavirus hit 335, while there were 6,650 confirmed cases.