(Bloomberg) -- South Korea plans to start legal proceedings that could lead to punishments for doctors who have walked off the job and disrupted health care to protest a plan to increase medical school enrollment. 

Health and Welfare Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said inspections would be conducted from Monday to confirm whether trainee doctors who have taken part in the walkout have defied a government order to return to work by the start of March. There was no time given for when the inspections would be concluded.

“We will take action without exception in accordance with laws and principles,” he said at a government meeting Monday in televised comments. The ministry issued a public notice on its website on Friday saying that some of the doctors in the collective action have been ordered to return to work, a procedural step starting a process for implementing disciplinary measures.

About 70% of South Korea’s 13,000 trainee doctors walked off the job some two weeks ago over a government plan to add 2,000 seats a year at medical schools from the current 3,058. The government said the change is needed to ease a doctor shortage among the most acute in the developed world and is essential for supporting the medical system in the rapidly aging country.

The trainee doctors, similar to medical residents, play key roles in emergency care. Their walkout has led hospitals to turn away patients and about a 50% reduction in surgeries, the government has said. The government has threatened to cancel licenses for doctors who organize what it says is an illegal labor action and suspend licenses for about three months for those taking part. 

“If licenses are suspended for three months, the doctors will not be able to complete the training period, which will delay the acquisition of specialist qualifications by at least a year,” Vice Health Minister Park Minsoo said in a government briefing.

The doctors contend the plan to increase enrollment won’t fix fundamental problems such as a shortage of physicians in fields seen as lower paying, a concentration of doctors in urban areas and a malpractice system they contend makes it difficult for them to do their jobs effectively.

On Sunday, doctors led thousands of protesters in a rally in Seoul demanding the government to scrap its plan.

Polling indicates the public is siding with the government in the standoff, seeing the reform as a way to cut waiting times for health care. South Korean doctors rank among the best paid in the developed world in comparison to average wages, which has led to criticism that the labor action may be more about protecting the earning power of physicians rather than improving the health-care system.

Read More: Why South Korea Doctors Stage Walkout Over Med School Slots

President Yoon Suk Yeol’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. This could help his conservative People Power Party in April elections as it tries to take control of parliament from the progressive Democratic Party. 

The enrollment system is a way to regulate the number of doctors in the country. The government’s plan has prompted more top students to enroll in exam-prep studies to become doctors over the once sure-fire bet of trying to become semiconductor engineers, according to operators at some of the nation’s largest cram schools. 

(Updates with comment from vice minister in paragraph six.)

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