Photo/Illutration People line up to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in Naha on Jan. 9. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

With the Omicron variant still raging across Japan, the central government is finalizing the extension of COVID-19 pre-emergency measures in Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures, according to sources.

The measures were scheduled to expire at the end of January in those three prefectures.

But Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on the morning of Jan. 24 said he would ask the central government to extend the period for about three weeks.

Yamaguchi Prefecture followed as Governor Tsugumasa Muraoka said at a news conference that he has asked the central government for the measures to be extended until Feb. 20. 

Cabinet ministers were expected to discuss the matter that day.

After consulting with experts, the central government is expected to make a final decision on Jan. 25, the sources said.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida discussed the central government’s response with Cabinet ministers including health minister Shigeyuki Goto on the afternoon of Jan. 23 at the prime minister’s official residence.

Kishida and others concluded that it is too soon to lift the pre-emergency measures in those three prefectures.

In Okinawa Prefecture, the number of new infections peaked on Jan. 15 with a record 1,829. Since then, the daily count has been on the decline.

But Tamaki said the number of elderly patients with severe symptoms has increased and the occupancy rate of hospital beds has remained too high, about 60 percent.

In Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures, the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise.

Yamaguchi Prefecture reported a record-high 353 new infection cases on Jan. 23.

"We are affected by the big wave of the nationwide infection surge," Muraoka said. "We need to be prepared for the wave to become even bigger and respond to it."

Currently, 16 prefectures including Tokyo are under the central government’s pre-emergency measures.

But as the Omicron variant continues spreading, several prefectures on Jan. 24 asked the central government to issue pre-emergency measures for the first time. 

Aomori Governor Shingo Mimura announced the prefectural decision at a news conference.

The northern prefecture logged a record number of new infection cases with 284 on Jan. 19. 

Shimane prefectural officials on Jan. 24 also made a similar request to the central government. That marked the first time the western prefecture has asked to be placed under pre-emergency measures. 

Yamagata Governor Mieko Yoshimura said she asked the central government for pre-emergency measures for the first time.

The prefecture's daily count of new infection cases was 123 on Jan. 24, the first time the number exceeded 100.