Salvador Illa, the health minister who led Spain through the COVID-19 pandemic, officially resigned on Tuesday to run as the socialist candidate in the upcoming Catalan elections.
Carolina Darias, previously minister for territorial policy, is now taking the reins of the country's health policy in the midst of a devastating third wave of infections.
Miquel Iceta, previously head of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), the seat now occupied by Illa, is taking over Darias's post.
The Cabinet reshuffle comes just less than three weeks before Catalonia may vote in regional elections.
Earlier this month, the Catalan Parliament voted to postpone elections from Feb. 14 to May 30 due to surging coronavirus infections.
Days later, the Catalan High Court struck overturned that decision, bringing the election date back to Feb. 14.
The ruling is not firm, however, and the election date could once again be modified as late as Feb. 8.
Illa's departure from the health minister post in the middle of the pandemic drew severe criticism from political opponents.
"Our vaccination campaign is blocked, our hospitals are collapsed, the pandemic is out of control and unemployment is too high. We have to be responsible, stop focusing on elections to instead try to stop the virus," Pablo Casado, the leader of Spain's Popular Party, said on social media Tuesday.
In Illa's last speech as health minister Tuesday, he said he had "no regrets" over deciding to run in Catalonia's elections.
Polls suggest that Illa's move to Catalonia could give the Socialist Party a major boost in the region controlled by separatists.
Illa, born in the province of Barcelona, is likely to be the winner of the race. According to a poll published last week by Spain's Center for Sociological Research (CIS), he could win the Socialists between 30 and 35 seats.
In the last Catalan elections, the Socialists won just 17 seats.
Yet, despite winning the most votes, Illa appears to be a long way off from winning a majority. Negotiating a coalition with other parties could be an uphill battle for the Socialists.
Meanwhile, the CIS poll also suggests that the Catalan independence parties could join forces to govern the region, just as they are doing now.
In an interview with the Salvados television program late last year, Illa said he thought the role of health minister would still allow him time to work on the Catalan independence issue.
Typically, the post is not too demanding as regional governments manage their own healthcare systems.
Illa was named health minister on Jan. 13, just two months before Spain would see itself under a full-blown lockdown due to the pandemic.