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Health minister urges doctors to retract planned strike amid pandemic

All News 11:53 August 06, 2020

SEOUL, Aug. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's health minister urged doctors Thursday to retract their planned strike that could disrupt the health care system amid the new coronavirus outbreak.

Park Neung-hoo said the government is ready to hold dialogue with doctors to try to resolve the issue, but he warned that the government will take "stern" actions if the work stoppage harms people's health and safety.

The Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA), a group of doctors in training, plans to hold an all-out strike Friday in protest of the government's plan to raise admission quotas at medical schools.

Health minister urges doctors to retract planned strike amid pandemic - 1

The Korea Medical Association (KMA), which speaks for 130,000 doctors, also plans to stage a separate general strike on Aug. 14.

"Under the grave situation over the COVID-19 pandemic, the groups' move to suspend treating patients en mass or take collective actions could cause harm to the people. In any case, the people's health and safety should not be threatened," Park said in a public message.

As part of the country's medical workforce reform plan, the health ministry is planning to expand admission quotas at medical schools by 4,000 over the next 10 years, starting in 2022, and to open a new public medical school as it seeks to broaden the reach of health care services.

This will increase the number of students admitted annually to medical schools to 3,458 in the 2022-2031 period from the current 3,058, according to the plan.

Doctors have opposed what they called the government's "hasty and unilateral" decision. But Park described the government's plan to raise the quotas for medical schools as an "inevitable" decision for the nation and the people.

This week's planned strike has sparked concerns that it could paralyze the health care system, as trainee doctors -- who work in essential fields such as intensive care units, surgery and emergency rooms -- will join the walkout.

"The government will closely consult with the medical sector over key details, including how to train and nurture medical workers with the increased quotas," Park said.

Meanwhile, the government plans to hold a closed-door meeting with representatives of KIRA later in the day.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip and ministry officials plan to listen to the stance of the group of doctors in training. Kim is expected to repeat the ministry's call to reconsider their strike plan.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo issues a public message at the government complex building in Seoul on Aug. 6, 2020, one day before a group of doctors in training plans to hold a strike in protest of the government's plan to increase admission quotas at medical schools. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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