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(2nd LD) Doctors' strike at crossroads amid talks with ruling party

All News 21:12 September 02, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES data in para 10)

SEOUL, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- The long-drawn strike by doctors in protest over the government's medical reform plan has reached a crossroads, as they are in talks with the ruling party to resolve differences, sources said Wednesday.

A group of doctors, represented by the Korean Medical Association's (KMA) chief Choi Dae-zip, met the ruling Democratic Party's policy committee chief Han Jeoung-ae late Tuesday to exchange views on how to end the standoff that comes as the country tries to cope with a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

Han said at the meeting that lawmakers can review all key issues from scratch, proposing to create a special commission to address matters that can improve the quality of the country's medical field.

The lawmaker said the reform plan cannot be changed, though how the plan is implemented can be discussed going forward.

Lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party (L row) hold talks with representatives of the Korean Intern Resident Association in Seoul on Sept. 1, 2020. The two sides exchanged views on the government's medical reform plan that has triggered a doctors' strike. (Yonhap)

If talks progress, details on how to end the walkout can be ironed out through extensive dialogue between all interested parties, the sources said.

Earlier this week, a task force of the Korean Intern and Resident Association voted in favor of an indefinite walkout by its members.

Thousands of trainee doctors working at general hospitals began the strike on Aug. 21 to protest the government's medical reform scheme. The KMA, with over 130,000 members, has backed the move, with staff and major hospitals also siding with trainee doctors and medical students.

Doctors have steadfastly opposed the reform plan that will expand admission quotas at medical schools by 4,000 over the next 10 years, starting in 2022.

They have also objected to the creation of new public medical institutions that can cater to the needs of rural areas, and the provision of more medical insurance coverage for oriental medicine treatment.

Data showed that 85.4 percent of trainee doctors took part in the strike as of Wednesday, while the percentage for fellow doctors stood at 29.7 percent. The figures compare to Tuesday's 77.8 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

The government, which has so far baulked at scrapping the reform plan, said it will respect the outcome of talks between parliament and doctors.

A trainee doctor at Seoul National University Hospital in downtown Seoul holds a sign denouncing the government's medical reform plan, on Sept. 2, 2020. (Yonhap)

"The government is watching the discussions taking place and wishes for an amicable outcome," said ministry spokesman Son Young-rae, adding that the government will respect any understandings reached.

The country reported 267 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, including 253 local infections, raising the total caseload to 20,449.

This marked the fourth day in a row that new coronavirus cases have stayed below 300, but health authorities remain vigilant as untraceable and critically ill patients are still at large.


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