Austria health minister quits citing exhaustion and threats

Wolfgang Mückstein called it quits on Thursday, saying constant threats from Covid sceptics were "extremely burdensome", making him the second Austrian Health Minister to resign in one year citing the burden of the job.

Wolfgang Mueckstein
Austrian Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein has resigned, saying he could no longer give 100 percent. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria’s Health Minister, Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens), on Thursday announced his resignation from the job, just 11 months after taking over. 

He will be replaced by Vorarlberg state councillor Johannes Rauch from the same party, ORF reports.

Mückstein said that the job could only be done when one could give 100 per cent, which he hasn’t been able to do anymore.

He mentioned that managing the pandemic is a “big responsibility” and that not all were happy with his decisions. In addition, Mückstein said the threats he and his family have received from Covid sceptics were “extremely burdensome”.

“No one can stand that for long”, Mückstein declared, mentioning the stress caused by needing police protection outside of his apartment at all times. 

Second resignation in less than a year

This is not the first time an Austrian health minister has resigned during the pandemic.

Mückstein’s predecessor, Rudolf Anschober, resigned last April, citing the toll working in the ministry during a pandemic. “15 months has felt like 15 years“, Anschober said at the time. 

Last April, Austria was in the early weeks of a vaccination campaign that would prove a challenge on its own. The country had more than 9,700 deaths recorded and had been through controversial lockdowns that were among the strictest in Europe. 

Anschober’s successor Mückstein oversaw the vaccination campaign, which has taken the country to a better position despite the pandemic not being over yet, he said.

But the months that followed also brought new challenges of vaccine hesitancy, the vaccine mandate law and weekly protests against the government and its measures.  

Austria now has almost 15,000 recorded deaths. Less than 70 percent of its population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

Mückstein’s resignation comes as Austria prepares for extensive reopening steps.

This month, the country, except for the capital Vienna, is set to drop all entry requirements for restaurants and life in general, allowing people to participate in social events and enter places without showing proof that they are vaccinated, recovered or tested, the 3G rule.

READ MORE: Will Austria’s vaccine mandate go ahead?

However, the announcement was criticised by some specialists, who claimed opening measures were coming too soon while Austria still averages more than 25,000 new Covid-19 cases per day.

During his speech, however, Mückstein didn’t mention the reopening steps or criticism, instead highlighting that his only goal was to protect lives and the health structure in Austria.

New minister to be Johannes Rauch

After Mückstein’s resignation, Green party leader Werner Kogler said the new health minister will be Vorarlberg state councilor Johannes Rauch.

Yesterday, the vice-chancellor said he would propose Rauch as the most suitable successor to the Green party. The politician’s inauguration is expected to take place early next week.

While Mückstein is a doctor and is expected to resume work in the field, Rauch is a career politician who was the Green spokesman in Vorarlberg for over 20 years and party representative (Klubobmann) for ten.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”