(Bloomberg) -- South Korean doctors led thousands of protesters in Seoul on Sunday as a standoff with the government nears a third week, in one of the largest demonstrations yet for a labor action that has slowed the delivery of health care.

Protesters wore masks and carried banners with messages demanding the government scrap its plan to increase enrollment in medical schools, footage from local broadcaster MBC showed. The Korean Medical Association — the nation’s largest lobby group for physicians — said about 30,000 people are at the march.

About 70% of South Korea’s 13,000 trainee doctors have walked out in the past two weeks over the initiative. The government argues the number of medical students has not been raised for about three decades and that South Korea now has one of the most acute doctor shortages in the developed world amid a rapidly aging population.

The KMA led the rally with its leaders speaking at the podium and vowing to refuse talks until President Yoon Suk Yeol’s government backs down. South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Sunday the administration would “go ahead and implement its duty” if doctors stayed off the job in violation of law, Yonhap News Agency reported. It wasn’t clear what that would entail.

Yoon has stood firm on the plan to add 2,000 spaces at medical schools from 3,058 now. His administration has indicated willingness to discuss doctors’ concerns such as low pay and long hours for trainees, and revisions to the legal system for malpractice suits. It said the walkout has led to people being turned away from understaffed emergency rooms and the cancellation of about half of surgeries.

Yoon’s approval rating climbed to 39% in a weekly tracking poll released Friday from Gallup Korea, the highest since July last year, indicating broad support among the public for his stance to hold firm. This could help his conservative People Power Party in April elections as it tries to take control of parliament from the progressive Democratic Party. 

Authorities have threatened to arrest and prosecute people who refused to comply by the government order to return to work. The government is looking at suspending licenses of doctors who encouraged the labor action that it says defies medical regulations and violates the law.

Critics of the walkout contend that doctors participating in the labor action are more keen on protecting their earning power, which ranks among the top among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, rather than improving the quality of the health-care system.

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