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South Korean doctors walk out to protest government policy, causing many surgery cancellations

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean trainee doctors collectively walked off their jobs Tuesday to escalate their protest of a government medical policy, triggering cancellations of surgeries and other medical treatments at hospitals.

The Health Ministry urged them to return to work immediately, saying they must not endanger the lives of patients to fight the government.

As of Monday night, more than half of the 13,000 trainee doctors in South Korea were confirmed to have submitted resignations en masse to protest a government push to increase the number of medical students. A total of 1,630 of them have left their work sites, according to Health Ministry records.

More trainee doctors are expected to follow suit. Under a decision made by their association last week, trainee doctors at the country’s five major hospitals were supposed to walk off collectively on Tuesday.

At the center of the dispute is a recent government announcement that it would raise medical school admissions by 2,000 from next year. The government says it’s urgent to have more doctors to address what it calls a shortage of doctors, given the country’s fast-aging population.

But the plan triggered a strong backlash from many doctors, who say the 2,000 new admissions are too many to be handled by medical schools and that resources must be used to resolve other issues first. They say producing too many doctors would also lead to unnecessary medical treatments due to increased competition among doctors. But their critics argue that doctors mainly worry their incomes would drop if there were more doctors.

Most of the 13,000 trainee doctors work at 100 hospitals across South Korea, assisting senior doctors during surgeries and treating patients. If their