South Korean doctors strike over health plans as new coronavirus cases climb

Medical residents protest a government plan to increase medical school admissions by 400 a year in Seoul on Aug 7, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS) - About a quarter of South Korea's medical clinics closed on Friday (Aug 14) for a one-day strike in protest against government plans to train new doctors, as the country reported the highest number of domestic coronavirus cases since the end of March.

The government plans to increase the number of medical students by 4,000 over the next 10 years, which it says is necessary to be better prepared for public health crises like the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Korean Medical Association (KMA), which helped organise the protest, says the country already has more than enough physicians.

At least 8,365 of the country's total 33,836 medical facilities, including private clinics, had said they would stage a walk out on Friday, but the numbers could rise, Vice-Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.

Hundreds of doctors and trainees were due to protest outside Parliament later on Friday.

"The number of physicians per 1,000 people has increased by 3.1 per cent annually for the past 10 years, which is six times greater than that of OECD average," KMA said in a statement.

The strike comes as South Korea on Friday reported 103 new coronavirus cases, of which 85 were domestic, the most locally transmitted cases since March 31, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.

The new cases, clustered around churches and fast food restaurants, bring the country's tally to 14,873 infections, with 305 deaths, as of midnight on Thursday.

The authorities said they were reviewing whether to resume tighter social distancing measures, which could include restricting gatherings to 50 people indoors and 100 outside.

South Korea used invasive tracing and widespread testing to contain its first outbreak of the novel coronavirus, but Asia's fourth-largest economy has experienced persistent outbreaks in recent weeks, mostly in the densely populated capital area.

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