Austrian health minister resigns over COVID-19 crisis, says he’s ‘overworked’

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Austria’s health minister announced his resignation on Tuesday, saying he was overworked and exhausted managing the coronavirus crisis.

“I’ve decided to resign from my job,” Rudolf Anschober, who has faced death threats over the government’s anti-virus measures, told reporters.

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“I’m overworked and powered out,” the 60-year-old said, adding that 15 months on the job had felt like 15 years.

He warned the pandemic should not be “underestimated”.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said, becoming emotional as he thanked friends and colleagues.

“I believe all in all we have done good work. No one is without mistakes.”

Anschober -- who took three months off from politics in 2012 because of burnout -- said he had suffered circulation problems recently.

He had been absent from work since last week and also took a week off early last month when he checked into hospital.

The Green party member became health minister early last year, just before the coronavirus started spreading rapidly in Europe.

Anschober will be replaced by Wolfgang Mueckstein, a doctor and Green party member who warned he favored lockdowns and would make “unpopular decisions” to save people’s health.

Anschober had seen his profile rise rapidly during the crisis, even eclipsing the popularity of conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in the middle of last year as Austria kept the first wave of the pandemic relatively at bay.

He spoke of the “challenge” of helping steer the country through the crisis in an interview with AFP last year, including curtailing freedoms such as those of movement and assembly.

Anschober said Tuesday that while the government had fought the first wave with “unity”, tension from outside and within the government had increased, leaving him often feeling “very alone”.

The former teacher was given police protection last November after death threats against him as protests by lockdown opponents and coronavirus deniers became louder.

Kurz said Anschober had “sacrificed himself” for the country and lauded his “commitment” while President Alexander Van der Bellen commended his “tireless work”.

The Alpine EU member of almost nine million has recorded more than 581,000 cases with over 9,700 deaths.

Its capital Vienna and two other adjacent provinces have been under a fresh lockdown since early April as intensive care units have been filling up rapidly.

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