Austria’s health minister announced his resignation on Tuesday, saying that he couldn’t continue in the grueling job of helping lead the country’s coronavirus response because of persistent personal health problems caused by overwork.
Rudolf Anschober, 60, had been health minister since January last year, when his Green party became the junior partner in a governing coalition under conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
The soft-spoken minister has been one of the main faces of Austria’s coronavirus response, which has gathered mixed reviews.
Anschober, who suffered burnout nine years ago, said he had suffered two episodes of sudden fatigue in the past month, as well as high blood pressure and tinnitus.
He said he had “clearly overworked” and hadn’t felt “completely fit” for several weeks. This wasn’t 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 said. “I am not at the moment, and I won’t be in the coming weeks if I don’t pull the emergency brake.”
“This pandemic takes no breaks and so a health minister can’t take a break either,” he added.
Austria was one of the first countries in western Europe to mandate the use of masks last year and was able to ease its first lockdown quickly.
Like several other European countries, it has struggled to find a consistent line in the pandemic since last fall. Austria bet heavily on opening up some sectors for people with negative tests, but hasn’t been able to break a succession of lockdowns and currently has an infection rate significantly higher than neighboring Germany’s.
“On the whole, I think we have done good work,” Anschober said. “In a pandemic, no one is free of mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. … We were in uncharted territory.”
“My impression is that it isn’t 15 months, more like 15 years,” he said of his time in office.