S. Korea police raid medical association office over walkout

SEOUL  -  South Korean police said they raided the offices of the Korean Medical Association on Friday, as the government contends with a doctors’ strike that has led to chaos in hospitals.

Nearly 10,000 junior doc­tors -- about 80 percent of the trainee workforce -- walked off the job last week. They are protesting against government plans to sharply increase med­ical school admissions to cope with shortages and an ageing society. The government had set a February 29 deadline for medics to resume work or face potential legal consequences, including suspension of their medical licences and arrest.

Only 565 doctors had re­sumed work by the deadline, according to figures released by the health ministry.

The mass work stoppage has taken a toll on hospitals, prompting the government to raise its public health alert to the highest level.

Around half of the surger­ies scheduled at 15 major hospitals have been cancelled since last week, according to the health ministry. Under South Korean law, doctors are restricted from strik­ing, and the government this week requested police inves­tigate people connected to the stoppage. Police in Seoul confirmed a raid on the Kore­an Medical Association (KMA) on Friday. The health ministry also posted on its website the back-to-work orders for 13 trainee doctors, leaving their licence numbers and parts of their names visible.

“We would like to inform you that refusing to comply with the order to commence work without justifiable rea­sons may result in disciplinary action and criminal prosecu­tion,” the order said.

Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said in a statement re­leased Friday: “We express our gratitude for the wise de­cision of the trainee doctors who have returned to the pa­tients’ side.” The KMA said its members were “enraged” by the raid and said they would continue “resisting and rais­ing voices”. “Doctors will have to make every effort to be recognised as a free citizen in South Korea,” spokesman Joo Soo-ho said. “We apologise for any inconvenience that we may cause to the public during this process.”

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