President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday afternoon sacked Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo and named medical professional Chung Chin-youb apparently to move on from the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak and seek a new momentum for her reform drive.
Park also replaced her senior secretary on welfare, overhauling the health care team largely criticised for lax management of the unprecedented MERS spread earlier this summer.
Chung, 60, an orthopedics professor at Seoul National University Hospital, will be subjected to a parliamentary hearing, but does not require the legislature's endorsement.
Park's new senior aide on labour and welfare will be Rep. Kim Hyun-sook of the ruling Saenuri Party, an economics professor-turned-politician.
"Nominee Chung is the right person to strengthen the nation's public medical sector, and to bring stability to public health as he holds a deep understanding and insights on Korea's overall medical sector through his 25 years' service at Seoul National University Hospital," said presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook.
The new senior secretary has also demonstrated her expertise in the fields of welfare and women policies while serving as a research fellow at Korea Institute of Public Finance, and teaching at Soongsil University in Seoul, Min said.
Park's nomination of a medical professor for the nation's top post in charge of health and welfare came amid persistent public distrust due to the government's bungled initial response to MERS. Last week, the country declared a de facto end to the outbreak that killed 36.
Calls had been mounting for Park to apologise and to replace incumbent Moon, a former scholar on pension system, saying he lacked leadership while dealing with the virus spread.
The government has been under fire for concealing information of MERS-infected patients and the hospitals where they were admitted and treated. The health ministry had rejected calls to disclose names of MERS-hit hospitals, stressing that it would paralyse the nation's medical sector.
Authorities later revealed the names and routes patients travelled. But its belated revelation sparked public anger, with many blaming the government's slow response for aggravating the spread of the disease.
Min also said that the president will deliver a public address on Thursday to present her vision on state affairs.
It was not immediately known whether Park will apologise to the public for the government's slow initial response.
Cheong Wa Dae had admitted last month that the government's response to the outbreak was "insufficient," but no official apology has been made so far.