Sports Direct vows to keep shops open despite new curbs
Sports Direct has said it will keep its stores open, despite new curbs aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
Under new measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, all UK shops selling non-essential goods have been ordered to close immediately.
Among those staying open are petrol stations, supermarkets and pharmacies.
But Sports Direct said it would remain open "where possible" as it was "uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible".
Businessman Mike Ashley owns Sports Direct and Evans Cycles under the Frasers Group. He says the range of sports equipment the stores sell can be used for exercising at home, while gyms remain closed.
Bicycle shops are on the list of retailers that are allowed to stay open during the shutdown.
A host of High Street retailers and food chains, such as Ikea, John Lewis and Next, had already shut prior to Mr Johnson's announcement on Monday evening, leaving tens of thousands of people temporarily without work.
Others such as WH Smith and B&Q had vowed to stay open while adhering to stricter social distancing policies.
Mr Johnson said: "I know the damage that this disruption is doing and will do to people's lives, to their businesses and to their jobs.
"And that's why we have produced a huge and unprecedented programme of support both for workers and for business."
Retailers that will be allowed to stay open include:
Supermarkets and other food shops
Home and hardware stores
Laundrettes and dry cleaners
Businesses will still be able to take online orders and deliver items to people's homes.
The government this week said it would pay the wages of employees unable to work due to the coronavirus pandemic, in a move aimed at protecting people's jobs.
It will pay 80% of salary for staff who are kept on by their employer, covering wages of up to £2,500 a month.
Many retail and hospitality firms have warned the pandemic could see them collapse, wiping out thousands of jobs, as life in the UK is put on hold.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of retail lobby group the British Retail Consortium, said many shops had already closed temporarily.
"Others have continued to provide essential products and services to their customers, both from physical stores and online.
"Any retailers that remain open will be following the very latest government public health guidance to ensure they do everything they can to ensure the safety of customers and staff."
The government had already ordered pubs, restaurants and cafes to close amid concerns that people were ignoring its advice to keep social contact to a minimum.
Monday night's announcement came as the number of UK deaths from coronavirus hit 335, while there were 6,650 confirmed cases.
Many of the big brands to have already announced closures have promised to pay their staff for several weeks until the government's Coronavirus job retention scheme kicks in.
However, concern is growing about the millions of self-employed and gig economy workers who will be forced to rely on benefits in the absence of targeted support.
Neil Carberry, boss of lobby group the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said the announcement reinforced the need for businesses and workers to access government support measures "as quickly as possible".
"With the economy and jobs market in lockdown, all employers can do is stand by their staff as far as possible and reap the benefits during the post-crisis comeback," he added.
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