Leaving the battlefieldNew Covid-19 cases are increasing in all cities and municipalities across the nation. Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), warned that we have not reached the peak of the pandemic yet. To overcome an unprecedented crisis, the government must present accurate prescriptions to tackle the challenges, and citizens must comply with them faithfully — and voluntarily. On top of that, the medical community’s dedicated participation in the battle against the virus is desperately needed, as proven during the first spike in Korea in February and March.
Unfortunately, however, a number of doctors are leaving this challenging battlefield one after another in protest of government plans — including the establishment of a “public medical school” and a scheme to drastically increase the number of medical students. Following a one-day walkout by intern and resident physicians last Friday, their senior colleagues went on strike from Sunday and Monday, to be followed by an all-out labor action by medical practitioners in the country for three days from Wednesday. A critical medical vacuum in the face of a resurgence in Covid-19 infections rings loud alarms across the battlefield.
Some university medical centers have already announced they can hardly accept patients in need of emergency care under such circumstances. Other hospitals joined the chorus by demonstrating a reluctance to accept people who want to get coronavirus tests. In some cases, cancer operations have been delayed for several weeks. No wonder a growing number of people are worrying about the possibility of deaths among patients with diseases other than Covid-19.
The Korea Medical Association (KMA) of 130,000 doctors has urged the Moon Jae-in administration to change course after attacking its schemes to raise admissions to medical colleges, set up what it calls a “public medical school,” apply insurance to oriental medicine and allow remote treatments. The KMA calls these the “four evils” of the administration’s medical policy.
A recent meeting between the KMA head and health minister only confirmed their sharp disagreements. Despite the minister’s pledge to put the four controversial plans on hold until Covid-19 cases ease, the KMA has threatened to take action unless the government withdraws the plans. The game of chicken must end.
Despite a meeting on Monday between KMA excecutives and Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, no tangible results were announced. The Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA) said its members would not return to emergency rooms and ICUs except when related to Covid-19 treatment.
As the Covid-19 situation has reached a new level of danger, the government and medical community must avert a possible collapse of our medical system. If the risk of seasonal flu is added to the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation will truly get out of control. Even though they oppose government policy, doctors must return to their hospitals before it's too late.