Doctors’ strike enters last day despite widened return-to-work order

The strike is the second of its kind and organized by the Korean Medical Association (KMA), which has some 130,000 members.
The widened order came after the government earlier ordered striking junior doctors at 95 trainee hospitals in the Seoul area to return to work.
The government also reported to police 10 doctors for violating the order issued earlier this week in the Seoul region, making good on its repeated warnings of strong legal action against those who failed to come back to hospitals.
On Wednesday, the government ordered striking trainee doctors and fellows working at training hospitals in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon to return to work amid the rapid spread of new coronavirus cases in the capital area.
Those who do not follow the government order without an adequate reason could have their licenses revoked and even face imprisonment of less than three years or a fine of less than 30 million won (US$25,000).
In a joint briefing held at the government complex in Seoul by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Justice and the National Police Agency, Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said the extension and seeking of legal action were “inevitable” to “safeguard people’s lives and safety,” as the resurgence of the coronavirus was posing a great threat to public safety and the doctors’ walkout added more trouble to already strained hospitals around the country.
However, the Korean Intern and Resident Association (KIRA) representing the trainee doctors, as well as fellow doctors, at major general hospitals has said it will continue its indefinite walkout as planned.
KIRA has made clear on numerous occasions that its members will not return to work unless the government reconsiders its plans, and a number of trainee doctors have submitted letters of resignation.
The government said the number of trainee doctors that have walked out stood at 6,070, or 68.8 percent, of the 8,825 interns and residents in the country as of late Thursday,
Among fellow doctors, 28.1 percent, or 549, of 1,954 physicians did not report to work during the day, it said.
Meanwhile, out of the 32,787 clinics in the country, 8.9 percent, or 2,926, were closed, it said. The figure is less than the 33 percent participation rate by practitioners tallied in the first walkout earlier this month and down by around 600 from the previous day.
The justice ministry also reiterated that those who do not follow the government’s order will face legal consequences. Doctors who are sentenced to a prison term are at risk of their medical license being revoked.
Choi Dae-zip, president of the Korean Medical Association, called the government’s reporting of doctors to police “harsh oppression” in a press conference in front of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.
“The action by the health ministry will only provoke doctors’ anger and aggravate the situation,” he said, warning of a continued strike indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the government said the national exam that tests medical students’ clinical skills, slated to take place from Sept. 1 until Oct. 27, will proceed as scheduled, although 2,823 out of 3,172 medical students boycotted the test in protest.
Concerns are looming over service disruptions at major general hospitals, as trainee doctors have vowed to continue their collective actions indefinitely.
The walkout has forced major general hospitals in the greater Seoul area to reduce working hours, delay some scheduled surgeries and cancel appointments, routine checkups and tests.
Internal medicine at Seoul National University, one of the country’s major general hospitals, said clinic hours will be shortened starting next week in a move to lessen the work of professor-level doctors.
Other medical workers, including nurses, have complained of their overloaded schedule, pleading that the government and the medical circle both find a breakthrough.
The walkout by practitioners at neighborhood clinics also caused some discomfort, but no major disruptions were reported due to the relatively low number of striking doctors.
Those who do not follow the government order without probable cause cou…
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