BACKGROUND: The ongoing pandemic is having a collateral health effect on delivery of surgical care to millions of patients. Very little is known about pandemic management and effects on other services, including delivery of surgery. METHODS: This was a scoping review of all available literature pertaining to COVID-19 and surgery, using electronic databases, society websites, webinars and preprint repositories. RESULTS: Several perioperative guidelines have been issued within a short time. Many suggestions are contradictory and based on anecdotal data at best. As regions with the highest volume of operations per capita are being hit, an unprecedented number of operations are being cancelled or deferred. No major stakeholder seems to have considered how a pandemic deprives patients with a surgical condition of resources, with patients disproportionally affected owing to the nature of treatment (use of anaesthesia, operating rooms, protective equipment, physical invasion and need for perioperative care). No recommendations exist regarding how to reopen surgical delivery. The postpandemic evaluation and future planning should involve surgical services as an essential part to maintain appropriate surgical care for the population during an outbreak. Surgical delivery, owing to its cross-cutting nature and synergistic effects on health systems at large, needs to be built into the WHO agenda for national health planning. CONCLUSION: Patients are being deprived of surgical access, with uncertain loss of function and risk of adverse prognosis as a collateral effect of the pandemic. Surgical services need a contingency plan for maintaining surgical care in an ongoing or postpandemic phase.