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Government to report striking junior doctors to police

Young doctors gather in the streets of Yeouido, central Seoul, on Aug. 14 to protest the administration's new medical legislation. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
Young doctors gather in the streets of Yeouido, central Seoul, on Aug. 14 to protest the administration's new medical legislation. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

The Korean government said Thursday they would report striking junior doctors to police, after they defied back-to-work orders issued the previous day.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a news briefing Thursday morning that the doctors’ noncompliance with the administrative orders would result in up to three years in jail or a fine of 30 million won ($25,300). They may be stripped of their licenses to practice as well.

“We inspected about 20 hospitals Wednesday to find some 358 interns and residents have taken a leave of absence. Those refusing to follow the orders to return to work will be reported to police accordingly,” said Yoon Tae-ho, the ministry’s director general for public health policy.

So far, no major disruptions to medical services have been reported, he added.

The warnings come after the ministry reported the doctors to the Fair Trade Commission on Wednesday, claiming their collective decision to walk out amounted to an “improper limitation of practices.” Following the report, the commission’s officials searched the Korean Medical Association’s office in Yongsan, central Seoul, in the afternoon of the same day.

Despite the growing pressure from the government, the young doctors remain defiant. After the ministry ordered the striking doctors to return to work Wednesday, some of them offered to resign from their hospitals. The ministry said, however, the resignations from work were also considered concerted activities and would be subject to punishment.

Thursday marks the seventh day since doctors in training went on a strike without an end date. While they have vowed not to opt out of COVID-19 duties, and that essential staff would remain in place, worries of possible disruptions in health care services are growing.

According to government data, 58.3 percent, or 5,995 out of 10,277 doctors who are still interns and residents, said they would take part in the strike as of Wednesday. Joining the strike action, around 10 percent of local clinics said they would close or limit service hours from Wednesday to Friday.

President Moon Jae-in once again warned of “stern measures” against the doctors on Thursday, saying that “laws and principles must be upheld.” 

“Doctors walking off jobs (during the coronavirus crisis) are comparable to soldiers deserting the battlefield in the middle of a war,” he said. 

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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