Countries around the world are facing the challenge of increased demand for care of people with COVID-19, compounded by fear, misinformation and limitations on movement that disrupt the delivery of health care for all conditions. Maintaining essential health services: operational guidance for the COVID-19 context recommends practical actions that countries can take at national, subregional and local levels to reorganize and safely maintain access to high-quality, essential health services in the pandemic context. It also outlines sample indicators for monitoring essential health services, and describes considerations on when to stop and restart services as COVID-19 transmission recedes and surges. This document expands on the content of pillar 9 of the COVID-19 strategic preparedness and response plan, supersedes the earlier Operational guidance for maintaining essential health services during an outbreak, and complements the recently-released Community-based health care, including outreach and campaigns, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is intended for decision-makers and managers at the national and subnational levels.