Hospitals have been told to see as many patients as they can via video calls because their beds will be needed to treat coronavirus sufferers.
Officials disclosed on Tuesday that the number of people in the UK diagnosed with Covid-19 had risen to 51, with 12 new cases – while a British woman staying in Tenerife has also tested positive for the virus.
NHS England has ordered hospitals to review their intensive care bed numbers and how they could be increased to cope with a surge in cases.
Hospitals have been told to draw up plans to segregate wards such as A&E departments in the event of a “significant escalation” in cases.
Keith Willett, head of NHS coronavirus planning, told hospitals to “step up” their planning.
He said “all acute units” will be needed to treat coronavirus patients as the outbreak grows.
“Consider implementing alternative models such as remote consultations for those patients who can be supported at home,” hospitals have been told.
As part of worst-case scenario planning, the NHS may be forced to cancel thousands of routine operations as coronvavirus spreads. A major outbreak is expected to hit the UK within the next two months.
All adults and children in intensive care with any kind of respiratory infection must also now be tested for the virus.
Hospitals must “assume that they will need to look after Covid-19 cases in due course” and to prepare wards to treat them.