Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold a press conference from 5 p.m. Friday, his office said Thursday, in what some ruling party lawmakers believe is an attempt to dispel concerns about his health.
Holding his first press conference at his office in Tokyo since June 18, Abe is expected to provide an explanation about his recent hospital visits and the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to government officials.
Abe has largely stayed out of the public eye in recent weeks. He has only held press conferences on the occasions of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, respectively, taking a few questions from reporters each day.
The 65-year-old premier made two visits to Keio University Hospital this month, later saying he underwent health checkups and was briefed on the results. He had declined to go into details then and said he would speak at a later date.
Abe's first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 was cut short due to ulcerative colitis, an intestinal disease that can cause stomach pain, diarrhea and extreme fatigue. He returned to power in 2012 with the help of a new medicine, and on Monday broke the record for longest consecutive tenure as premier.
A senior member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party said Thursday that Abe "appears to have suffered a flare-up of the disease but is already on the mend."
"I cannot imagine he will step down" at this point, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Abe's current term as LDP leader -- and thus prime minister -- expires in September 2021.
In Friday's press conference, Abe will also announce new measures to fight the coronavirus including plans to secure enough vaccines for all residents in Japan by the first half of 2021, according to a government document obtained by Kyodo News.
The measures will include greatly expanding the country's testing capacity to conduct mass testing on healthcare providers and nursing home staff in regions that are seeing a rise in new infections.
The government will review its guidelines for recommending COVID-19 patients to be hospitalized, prioritizing those with severe symptoms and asking those with mild or no symptoms to self-isolate at home and in designated lodging facilities.
It wants to ensure that enough hospital beds are secured for severe cases in anticipation of a scenario in which Japan is also hit by an influenza outbreak in the winter, according to the document.
Abe is also likely to refer to a plan to reshuffle his Cabinet and executives of the LDP, of which he is president.
Abe last did so last September, but retained key members such as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai.