MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez appointed Regional Policy Minister Carolina Darias as the new health minister on Tuesday after her predecessor resigned to run in an election in a move criticised by the opposition amid rising COVID-19 infections.
In her previous job, the 55-year-old lawyer-turned- politician from the Canary Islands helped coordinate Spain’s response to the pandemic, overseeing weekly meetings of regional health chiefs.
Former Health Minister Salvador Illa, who like Darias is from Sanchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE), stepped down to run in an election scheduled in his native Catalonia for Feb. 14 to try to win the regional government away from pro-independence parties.
“It is intolerable that Sanchez is more concerned with garnering votes than saving lives,” Pablo Casado, leader of the main opposition People’s Party, tweeted about Illa’s departure, shortly before the health ministry reported 36,435 new cases and 591 deaths on Tuesday.
Spain’s cumulative infections now total 2,629,817, while the death toll is at 56,799.
Despite the two-week number of infections tripling over the past month to a record 893 cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, Spain, unlike many European countries, has chosen not to impose a new nationwide lockdown after the first one ended in May.
Instead, the government has delegated regional authorities to deploy a mixture of curfews, caps on gatherings and restrictions on business opening hours, which still required central coordination, of which Darias was in charge.
Darias had to spend 30 days in isolation after testing positive for the virus in March.
In this first change of the minority government line-up since Sanchez’ leftist coalition came to power just over a year ago, Catalonia’s Socialist leader Miquel Iceta will replace Darias as the regional policy minister.
(Reporting by Belen Carreno and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Ingrid Melander, Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson)