Spanish PM appoints new health minister amid worsening pandemic

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Spain's Health Minister Salvador Illa in Barcelona, Spain February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo

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MADRID, Jan 26 (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 has 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 Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), stepped down to run for elections scheduled in his native Catalonia for Feb. 14 to try to win the regional government away from pro-independence parties. read more

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"Spain again hits record COVID infections over the weekend, with 767 dead and 93,822 cases. 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.

Spain's cumulative infections now total 2,593,382, while the death toll is at 56,208.

Despite the two-week number of infections tripling over the past month to a record 885 cases per 100,000 people on Monday, Spain, unlike many European countries, has chosen not to impose a new nationwide lockdown after the first one ended in May. read more

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.

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Reporting by Belen Carreno and Andrei Khalip, Editing by Ingrid Melander and Angus MacSwan

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