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Prime minister talks with doctors, as hopes for breakthrough rise

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Monday met with representatives of the Korean Medical Association, continuing the efforts to resolve the conflict between the government and medical professionals.

Going into the meeting, Chung voiced concerns about the impact the doctors’ planned strike will have on the fight against the pandemic, and pledged to discuss contested issues with medical professionals. 

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun speaks at the meeting with Korean Medical Association representatives on Monday. Yonhap
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun speaks at the meeting with Korean Medical Association representatives on Monday. Yonhap

“If the Korean Medical Association goes ahead with mass closing, patients will be fearful and the public will feel anxious,” Chung said.

In protest of the government’s plans for the medical profession, members of the KMA plan to withhold their services across the nation for three days from Aug. 26 to 28.

“Yesterday, views were exchanged with the Korean Intern Resident Association, and confirmed both sides’ will to talk. The government will discuss medical policies from an open position.”

South Korean doctors and medical students have been protesting government initiatives to increase the number of students accepted into medical schools and to establish state-run medical schools.

The meeting, however, failed to narrow the differences between the two sides.

KMA chief Choi Dae-zip said the two sides spoke frankly and agreed that working-level officials from both sides would continue the discussion, but that the gap in their positions remained.

He said the KMA’s plans for the collective action remained unchanged.

Ahead of its meeting with the prime minister, the KMA said the previous day’s talks between the government and the Korean Intern Resident Association were “meaningful,” but that the results were disappointing.

Following the meeting, the Korean Intern Resident Association said it will cooperate with the government’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the group said that the government has begun meaningful negotiations with medical professionals’ associations, and that members of the Korean Intern Resident Association will “actively participate” in treating COVID-19. However, the group said Sunday’s agreement does not mean that it has abandoned collective action.

KIRA doctors were already working at pandemic-related facilities, but more treatment and testing centers are likely to open as the outbreak in Seoul continues.

The agreement was confirmed by a government official, who told reporters that the two sides will focus on the situation at hand, and then discuss matters with “all issues” on the table.