While everybody in South Korea is following reinforced social distancing guidelines, the spread of COVID-19 is not showing any sign of slowing down. The number of daily new patients rose again in six days and mass infections have occurred in hospitals – Hyemin Hospital in Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, and Soonchunhyang University Cheonan Hospital – which should be at the frontline of the battle with the virus. Doctors who need to be by patients’ sides are on day 13 of a mass strike. The strike of residents that began on August 21 has expanded with 77.8 percent of residents and 30.0 percent of fellows joining the strike as of Tuesday.
As concerns over the strike grow, the South Korean government decided on Wednesday to add 496 beds for critical patients with the budget of 105.4 billion won and deploy 53 army surgeons to private hospitals by the first half of next year. With the increased number of beds, more medical professionals will be needed.
Doctors are requesting the government to withdraw four new medical policies – increasing the number of medical school students, opening public medical institutions, promoting remote medical treatment, and the provision of more medical insurance coverage for oriental medicine treatment. While the National Assembly is trying to mediate by opening the possibility of reviewing from the start and the government is also making a friendly gesture by withdrawing complaints against the one-week delay of the national examination for medical practitioners and some residents, doctors still have distrust in the government. In fact, the government said on Tuesday that it is realistically impossible to withdraw the policies on oriental medicine treatment and public medical institutions because they are out of the realm of its authorities.
The government’s one-sided way of forcing new medical policies without any discussions with medical professionals that are combating COVID-19 in the front line. However, the country is in a war against the virus with all people trying to overcome it with the community spirit of solidarity and consideration. The government should make a trustworthy promise to review the matters from the beginning after the end of the war against the virus while doctors should commit to discussions on how to make medical services more accessible to the public.
Everybody in the country is enduring sacrifice these days, giving up the normal way of living and livelihood, including small business owners whose livelihoods have been directly affected. Both the government and the medical field should not turn their heads away from such suffering of people. Each party should make concessions to end the current abnormal state as early as possible and continue to fight against the virus together.