South Korean Doctors Split Over Strike amid Spike in COVID-19 Cases

On Friday, South Korea’s top medical association asked for a termination to the doctors’ strike which has affected efforts to curb a new wave of coronavirus infections. The strike was announced after the government backed down on plans to reform the medical sector.

Resisting the Reforms

However, trainee medics rejected the deal and affirmed to continue the walkout which started on August 21 including around 16,000 interns along with resident doctors.

The trainee doctors resist the reforms, which consist of amplifying the number of doctors, building public medical schools, enabling state insurance to cover more oriental medicine, and expanding telemedicine.

The government states the initiatives could help fight the crises such as the coronavirus. However, the doctors argued it would only amplify the concentration of physicians in cities without improving medical infrastructure and work conditions in rural provinces.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo stated that the government would curb the proposed reforms and discuss them again with the industry and the parliament once the coronavirus outbreak had pacified.

Korean Medical Association President Choi Dae-Zip signed an agreement with Park terminating the strike and urged the trainees to go back to work.

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“Our shared goals of improving work conditions and building a reasonable medical system cannot be achieved by a strike alone,” Choi explained in a statement.

A major group of trainee doctors stated that they had not been included in the negotiations and promised to continue the walkout. Dozens of trainees, some wearing surgical gowns, protested at parliament holding banners condemning the “hasty agreement.”

Distancing Further Extended

The government further extended social distancing rules by one week for the Seoul metropolitan area to September 13 as health officials recorded 198 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Thursday, leading to a total of 20,842 with 331 fatalities.

On Thursday, the daily tally decreased to less than 200 for the first time in more than two weeks.

Minister Park stated more time was required for stricter social-distancing rules implemented last week to take effect. Restrictions on on-site dining will be extended to include bakery and ice cream franchises starting Sunday, Park said.