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Outside China, South Korea has been most affected by the global epidemic. There are 5,766 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, as at 5 March. And according to the World Health Organization, a total of 32 deaths from COVID-19 infection had been recorded by 4 March.

The Korean Health and Medical Union (KHMU) has urged the Korean government to “take more active measures and actions” to strengthen the national COVID-19 response. While noting that government has largely responded quite well thus far, KHMU observed that there is now increasing shortage of bed spaces in hospitals due to the spread of the coronavirus disease. Hospitals are also running out of masks and personal protective equipment for health workers. And health workers have been working around the clock, resulting in heightened stress and burnout.

Outside China, South Korea has been most affected by the global epidemic. There are 5,766 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, as at 5 March. And according to the World Health Organization, a total of 32 deaths from COVID-19 infection had been recorded by 4 March.

Members of KHMU have been the backbone of concerted efforts to keep the epidemic under control, particularly in the Daegu city and Gyungsangbuk-do with 90% of confirmed cases. These efforts include testing 10,000 people every day. And thus far, about 150,000 people have already been tested. But, as the situation gets prolonged, “accumulated fatigue of medical staff and physicians is emerging as a serious issue at the moment” according to the union.

The current situation requires adequate action by government to: strengthen public health systems including the provision of safe and effective staffing for health; ensure full compliance with occupational safety and health measures, and; provide adequate public care, including mental health and psychosocial support measures.

KHMU has issued a 9-point demand to the National Assembly and appeal to Korean citizens, thus:

  1. The central government and municipalities should take measures to deal with the current challenges in a faster manner.

  2. Masks and personal protective equipment should be distributed preferentially to medical organizations and health and medical workers. At the moment, as issues of masks that are running out very fast are not resolved, the government should take special measures. The government should have local suppliers produce protective masks, which have been imported from overseas countries so far.

  3. Education and trainings for health and medical workers should increase and become more intensive. In preparation for accommodation of a large number of confirmed patients, workers also need to be ready. In particular, an adequate level of trainings should also be given to indirectly employed workers such as those working in sanitation and maintenance sectors. To this end, the government should not spare budget for support.

  4. A particular measure should be taken to protect socially marginalized group of people. Care services should be given to those with mental illness, older citizens and disabled people, and infant and pre-school age children, and the government should ensure that no one of them is neglected due to the lack of care services. In addition, paid leave for family care should be also available. An active measure is needed particularly for pregnant hospital workers.

  5. The government should provide financial support to medical institutions and workers. The public hospitals account for only 10% of the total hospitals in Korea, hence, the government should also take into account private medical institutions in planning the financial and other types of support.

  6. The national assembly should process and make a decision on concerned laws and additional budget as soon as possible.

  7. Citizens should not hate, exclude and/or discriminate people in a particular condition.

  8. Citizens should actively participate in blood sharing. The KHMU is also joining in the campaign.

  9. We ask you all to cheer and give support to health and medical workers who are fighting against COVID-19 in the field.

PSI fully supports the demands of KHMU and call on the Korean National Assembly to carry out the actionable steps it has been urged to take. We also join the KHMU in calling on all Koreans to stand in unity and solidarity and against fear, hatred, exclusion and discrimination. And indeed, this is a universal message which trade unions across the world must champion as we put people first in the fight against COVID-19, and for quality health for all.

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