Photo/Illutration Yasutoshi Nishimura, center, the Cabinet minister heading the central government's effort against the novel coronavirus pandemic, holds a news conference on Jan. 2 with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, second from right, and the governors of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

As Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures confirmed record numbers of new COVID-19 cases on Dec. 31, officials of the central and prefectural governments continued tussling over issuing a new state of emergency.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the state minister in charge of economic revitalization who also heads the central government’s effort to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic, met on Jan. 2 with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and her counterparts from Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures.

Nishimura told reporters after the meeting that the central government would consider the request made by the four governors to declare a state of emergency over the health crisis.

At the same time, Nishimura also asked the governors to implement additional measures to prevent a further spread of new infections. One suggestion was to immediately ask local restaurants and bars to close their operations at 8 p.m., two hours earlier than the request now in place, and to stop serving alcohol at 7 p.m.

Another request made by Nishimura to the governors was to have them ask residents to refrain from going out after 8 p.m. on unnecessary outings.

The government panel of experts dealing with the health scare had called for the closing of bars and restaurants at an earlier hour.

The central government will decide on the state of emergency declaration after consulting with that experts’ panel.

The three-hour meeting between Nishimura and the four governors was held amid the three-day New Year holiday period. The governors voiced concerns about the dire situation their medical care systems face from the recent surge in new COVID-19 cases.

In addition, one high-ranking Tokyo metropolitan government official raised concerns that Tokyo residents were no longer listening to the recent requests by Koike calling on them to refrain from nonessential outings. Similar requests in the spring led to a decline in local residents going out.

Koike said on Dec. 22 that declaring a state of emergency for the entire nation would have a similar effect as in the spring when the movement of people fell off dramatically after the declaration was issued in April.

But Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has long been hesitant about issuing such a declaration. Nishimura's request to the four governors may have been an attempt to measure what effect the earlier closing of bars and restaurants had on new infections before deciding on declaring a state of emergency.

One high-ranking official in the prime minister’s office said any decision on the state of emergency would only be made after seeing if Tokyo asks its bars and restaurants to close two hours earlier. Another official close to Suga said a state of emergency would be one option to ensure that the request to close earlier is fully complied with.

(Amane Sugawara contributed to this article.)