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Police raid striking doctors' homes, offices, after deadline passes on return-to-work order

March 1, 2024 - 16:02 By Choi Jeong-yoon
Police officers control the entrance to the Korean Medical Association Hall in Yongsan, Seoul, Friday, as police launch a criminal investigation into officials of the association accused of violating medical laws. (Yonhap)

As the Thursday deadline the government set for striking doctors to return to work passed, most residents stayed off work Friday, leading the government to introduce stronger measures.

Police raided the offices of the Korean Medical Association in Seoul and Gangwon Province the same day, as doctors affiliated with the organization were accused of violating medical laws regarding the ongoing mass walkout by trainee doctors.

The police reportedly seized mobile phones and computers from the homes of doctors sued by the Health Ministry earlier this week.

The ministry filed charges against the emergency committee of the major doctors' association, accusing them of violating medical laws, criminal obstruction of justice, and instigating and abetting the mass resignations of trainee doctors. The trainee doctors submitted their resignations in protest against the government's plan to increase the annual medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 by 2025. The association is charged with expressing support and providing legal assistance to residents.

As of Wednesday, only 294 out of around 9,076 protesting doctors have returned to work after the government warned of possible punitive action, such as the suspension of their medical licenses, unless they resume work by Thursday. Despite the government's firm stance, there is little sign of the doctors returning, according to the Health Ministry and hospital officials.

"There hasn't been a big (shift) in the movement (among the residents of returning)," said Park Dan, head of the Korean Intern Resident Association, in a Facebook post.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry officially posted the state's return-to-work directive on its website on Friday concerning 13 trainee doctors associated with 12 general hospitals, including Park.

Such a move is interpreted as the conclusive step preceding potential punitive measures. Before resorting to the website posting, the government had attempted to communicate the order through emails, text messages, and face-to-face interactions. However, a significant number of recipients had actively avoided receiving the notifications by changing their contact details.

"The government is supposed to deliver the order via email or in person, but posting a notice is also allowed in case those methods are not possible," a ministry official said. "We will continue due administrative measures in accordance with the law."