Junior doctors said Sunday they would extend their strike indefinitely after the government reported at least 10 of them to the police for violating the back-to-work orders put in place Wednesday.

The Korean Intern and Resident Association, a group representing the trainee doctors, said the decision was reached in an overnight meeting that lasted until the morning.

Continuing the strike was voted down in the first round due to concerns over criminal charges filed against some of the doctors. But it was approved in another round of vote. The final vote count was 134 in favor, out of total 186 ballots cast.

In a statement issued the same day, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has denounced the young doctors’ decision to continue the walkout launched Aug. 21 as “a regrettable disregard for lives and safety of the citizens as coronavirus outbreaks worsen.”

“We urge the doctors to return to work immediately in light of the grave crisis the country is facing,” it said, warning that the trainee and fellow doctors who fail to abide by the state orders to return to work will be held criminally liable and possibly stripped of their licenses to practice medicine.

The ministry has said the doctors who fail to follow the orders could have their licenses revoked and even face jail time of up to three years or a fine of 30 million won ($25,000) or less.

Despite several talks held over the last three weeks, no compromises have been found, the ministry said.

After the government filed complaint against the interns and residents with the police on Friday, the Korean Medical Association said a third round of strikes among primary care doctors may kick off for an indefinite period.

“The government is threatening to not only revoke the medical licenses of interns, residents and fellows, but also put them in jail for refusing to comply with the orders. Unless all charges are dropped, another strike will take place from Sept. 7,” said the doctors’ group.

In the first two strikes, the strike participation rate at the clinics was between 4-6 percent.



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