Austrian Health Minister Steps Down, Exhausted by Pandemic

VIENNA—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 COVID-19 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.

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 often been a lone voice in the Austrian government calling for stricter lockdown measures while clashing with opposition from Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives, who have been keen to loosen restrictions.

Anschober said that he hasn’t 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.

Werner Kogler and Wolfgang Mueckstein
Austrian Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler and designated Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein attend a news conference in Vienna, Austria, on April 13, 2021. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

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 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.