A "Do Not Enter" sign and National Health Service (NHS) information about the coronavirus is displayed at the entrance to a Doctors surgery in North London, Britain March 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

National Health Service (NHS) has announced plans to cancel all routine surgery for three months and to send home as many patients as possible to free up staff and beds to deal with the spread of the coronavirus.

Simon Stevens, NHS head in England, said non-urgent operations will be cancelled from April 15 with the aim of freeing up a third of 100,000 hospital beds in England.

The goal is to try to stop the healthcare system becoming overwhelmed during a potential surge of coronavirus cases, while at the same time limiting exposure of healthy individuals to the infectious virus.

“As part of our readiness for the likely influx of more coronavirus patients, we are going to be taking concerted action,” Stevens told a parliamentary committee.

“First of all we are suspending elective non-urgent surgery with an assumption that will be suspended everywhere from 15th April at the latest for at least three months, with a discretion for hospitals to take action earlier if they need it.”

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