On Tuesday, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Japan reached a new high as the government considered expanding measures to combat the highly infectious Omicron coronavirus variant.

The country had more than 27,000 new cases, surpassing the previous high of August, just after Tokyo held the Summer Olympics. The western prefecture of Osaka set a new high with 5,396 new cases, while Tokyo had 5,185, the most since August 21.

Tokyo and 12 other prefectures have asked the central government for infection-fighting measures, according to Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno, amid concern that Omicron cases could overwhelm the healthcare system.

The measures allow governors to impose restrictions on mobility and business, such as limiting the hours when bars and restaurants are open. An official decision on the so-called "quasi-emergency measures" could be announced as early as Wednesday.

Japan PM Kishida unveils $490bn stimulus package | Business and Economy |  Al Jazeera

This would come after restrictions were imposed earlier this month in three districts hosting US military bases, when it appeared that Omicron outbreaks on the bases had spread to nearby communities.

On Tuesday, Tokyo's hospital bed occupancy rate for COVID-19 patients, a carefully watched metric, increased to 23.4%. Officials have stated that a rise to 50% would necessitate the declaration of a full state of emergency.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that he intends to declare a state of quasi-emergency in 13 regions, including Tokyo, from January 21 to February 13, imposing stricter COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and gatherings.

As the number of coronavirus cases increased, the government halted a programme in which persons who had been vaccinated or had negative test results would be exempted from coronavirus restrictions.