S. Korean doctors strike over med school plan amid pandemic

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Thousands of young doctors in South Korea began a strike Friday in protest of government medical policy, causing concerns about treatment of patients amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The striking doctors are interns and resident doctors, who oppose the government’s plan to expand admissions to medical schools to resolve the shortage of doctors in South Korea.

The doctors call the plan “a populist policy” that would waste taxpayers’ money and nurture low-quality medical schools. In a statement posted on their website, they accused the government of making little financial support for their practicing programs and said that they work with an extremely low salary.

“We should unite as one people to fight together and cope with issues thoroughly,” Park Ji-hyun, head of the Korean Intern Resident Association, said in a speech during a rally that drew thousands of masked people, mostly young doctors.

About 70-80 % of the association’s 16,000 members were taking part in Friday’s one-day strike, South Korean media reported.

There were no immediate reports of major disruption of medical services.

During a daily virus briefing Friday, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said the government viewed the strikes as “very regrettable.” He urged doctors to avoid an “extreme measure” that would cause harms to patients.

Kim said the government has let hospitals use alternative medical personnel and take other steps to prevent a possible “medical vacuum.”

Earlier Friday, South Korea reported 20 additional coronavirus cases, taking the country’s total to 14,519 with 303 deaths.

South Korea’s virus outbreak has gradually eased since it reported hundreds of cases every day in late February and March. In recent weeks, the country has recorded roughly 20-60 cases each day.