Return to the virus battlefieldThe daily count of new Covid-19 cases neared 300 on Wednesday as infections continue to sprawl from church congregations in and around Seoul. The number has been in the three digits for a week. For many, the location they picked up the virus cannot be traced. The muted virus also turns out to be stronger and more harmful than the earlier strain that broke out among churchgoers of Shincheonji Church in the southern city of Daegu. Government and civilians must do their best to fight the new spread together.
However, the Ministry of Health & Welfare and the Korea Medical Association (KMA) remain at polar opposites over a government proposal to stretch medical school quotas by 4,000 over the next 10 years. The KMA as well as residential and intern doctors are threatening a walkout in protest of the proposal they claim is unrealistic. The government argues an increase in doctors is necessary to improve health care in rural areas.
On Wednesday, representatives of the two sides — Health Minister Park Neung-hoo and KMA head Choi Dae-zip — sat together for the first time. Park proposed dialogue with every option on the table, while Choi insisted the government must first retract its “unilateral” policy.
Doctors plan to go on strike as planned. They had a general strike on Aug. 14 and warn of a longer three-day walkout starting Wednesday next week. Despite their reasoning, the strike cannot gain sympathy from the public at a critical time when the spread of Covid-19 has renewed at a dangerous level.
Even with the medical system at full capacity, hospital beds and medical staff are short against the surge in the capital region. If doctors desert hospitals, public lives could be at risk. People could die if they do not get timely care. Such a catastrophe must be avoided.
The outbreak in Daegu was able to get under control thanks to the devotion from medical staff and volunteers across the nation. The country faces a greater danger now. Public anxieties will escalate if the government and the medical community fight at such a critical moment.
The two sides must set aside their disagreements and jointly address the urgent danger first. If they don’t, both will lose public confidence. Self-interests must be saved until a bigger crisis is combated. The government should defer its plan until the Covid-19 danger ends so that the medical community can return to the virus battlefield.