Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober of the Greens, the junior partner in the conservative-led coalition, said on Tuesday he is stepping down, exhausted and sick from battling the coronavirus pandemic and occasionally other officials.
“I … do not want to break myself,” Anschober said in a short-notice statement to the media, describing blood-pressure problems that have caused him to take sick leave twice recently.
“In the worst health crisis in decades the republic needs a health minister who is 100% fit. That is not currently me.”
Anschober, a 60-year-old former journalist and schoolteacher, is one of the country’s most popular politicians, known for his long, patient explanations of the pandemic’s challenges, often while holding up large print-outs of charts.
He has also, however, often been a lone voice in government calling for stricter lockdown measures in the face of high infection numbers. That has meant clashing with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives, who have been keen to loosen restrictions even while admitting infections are too high.
The pandemic has buffeted the government, which like many others in Europe is facing growing public frustration with lockdown measures and the slow roll-out of vaccines. Anschober said it has also meant he has not had a single full day off in more than a year, which has damaged his health.
“I took on a very nice and challenging job 15 months ago. It feels like it has not been 15 months but 15 years,” Anschober said. He started when the coalition was formed in January 2020, before the pandemic hit Austria.
Shortly after Anschober’s announcement the leader of the Greens, Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler, presented medical doctor Wolfgang Mueckstein as Anschober’s successor, adding that he would be sworn in on Monday.
“I would like to help make sure that we all get through the pandemic together as well as possible,” Mueckstein, a general practitioner and relative unknown who has been active in the Vienna Medical Association, told a news conference.