TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to explain his health condition, which has been rumored to be deteriorating and thus has been a focus of attention, as well as the government’s additional steps to combat the novel coronavirus at a press conference to be held at the prime minister’s office from 5 pm Friday (8 am GMT).
It will be the first time in more than two months for Abe to hold a press conference for a relatively large amount of time at the prime minister’s office. He last did so on June 18, the day after this year’s regular session of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, ended.
Also on Friday, ahead of Abe’s press conference, the government’s headquarters for coronavirus response will hold its first meeting in about a month.
Rumors of the prime minister’s ill health exploded after he visited Keio University Hospital in Tokyo on Aug. 17 and Monday. He briefly spoke with reporters after the hospital visits, saying, among other things, that he took the test to make sure his health condition is fine, but some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suspect that his chronic disease, ulcerative colitis, may have worsened, and that he underwent medical treatment at the hospital.
Abe ended his first stint in power in September 2007, when the chronic illness forced him to step down only one year after he assumed the post of prime minister.
Therefore, both ruling and opposition lawmakers will be watching with great interest how Abe will explain his health condition and the future of his administration at Friday’s press conference.
Abe is also expected to announce the government’s plan to expand polymerase chain reaction tests to differentiate novel coronavirus patients from those with influenza toward the winter, when coronavirus cases are expected to surge along with flu infections.
The prime minister is likely to call for giving flu vaccination priority to those with high risks of experiencing severe symptoms, such as elderly people.
He is also expected to present a plan to use government budget reserves for obtaining vaccines for the novel coronavirus, after the Japanese government reached basic agreements with U.S. and British drug giants on the supply of such vaccines.
The novel coronavirus disease is currently classified in the second-most-dangerous category of diseases under the infectious disease law. In response to criticisms that the designation has led to an increase of burdens on medical institutions, the prime minister is expected to explain his plans to allow flexibility over issues related to the matter.
Other coronavirus response steps to be explained at the press conference will likely include extending by three months until the end of this year the period for the application of special measures in a subsidy program for firms that pay leave allowances to furloughed workers and easing re-entry restrictions for foreigners with residency status in Japan.