Austria”s health minister Rudolf Anschober has resigned, saying his role in handling the COVID-19 pandemic had left him “exhausted”.
“15 months have felt like 15 years,” Anschober told reporters at a press conference in Vienna on Tuesday.
“For the past few weeks, I’ve been lacking energy”, he added, while visibly emotional. He will formally leave his position on Monday.
The minister was hospitalised at the beginning of March for “cardiovascular problems” and said he had experienced two episodes of sudden fatigue in the past month, as well as high blood pressure and tinnitus.
His condition was not burnout, he added, but doctors advised him to take a break.
“In the most serious health crisis for decades, the republic needs a health minister who is 100% fit”.
Anschober was appointed health minister in January 2020, when his Green party became the junior partner in Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s coalition government.
The 60-year-old ecologist has been one of the main faces of Austria’s coronavirus response, which has received mixed reviews.
Anschober was initially praised in Austria due to the low number of cases and deaths in the country during the first wave of the pandemic.
But since the autumn, authorities have been unable to contain the spread of the epidemic despite several confinements, leading to growing discontent.
“The ministry became the crisis management centre for the pandemic overnight,” Anschober said, “despite mistakes, we did a lot of things right.”
Wolfgang Mueckstein, a Vienna-based doctor, was named Anschober’s successor.
Chancellor Kurz thanked Anschober for playing “a central role” in the country’s pandemic strategy and wished him a quick recovery.
“Rudi Anschober has exercised this task with great responsibility from the very beginning,” Kurz said in a Twitter thread.
“He has sacrificed himself for our country in the past 16 months as well as putting all his energy into fighting the Corona pandemic as Minister of Health.”
“His decision is a deeply personal one that we all respect, of course.”