Temperatures expected to soar above 40 deg C in Britain, France

Beachgoers enjoying the sun and the sea in Blackpool, north-west England, on July 17, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (NYTIMES, AFP) - Britain and France are bracing themselves for what could be their hottest day ever recorded. Many schools in England planned to close, hospitals were cancelling nonessential procedures, and retirement homes were making preparations to keep their vulnerable residents safe.

Britain has declared a national emergency and issued its first-ever “red” warning for exceptional heat, meaning there is a potential risk to life with temperatures that could soar to 41 degrees Celsius on Monday (July 18) and Tuesday.

That would be the highest temperature recorded in Britain. The current record is 38 degrees Celsius, set in 2019, according to the Met Office, Britain’s national weather service.

In France, crushing temperatures are expected from the Mediterranean as far up as Brittany in the northwest.

Forecasters have put 15 departments across the country on the highest state of alert for extreme temperatures, including Gironde in the southwest where forest fires have already wrought havoc.

In the Landes forest, in the southwest Aquitaine region, temperatures “will be above 42 degrees Celsius” said forecaster Olivier Proust.

And Brittany, which until recently has escaped the worst of the heat, could register temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius, say experts, which would be a record for the region.

Blistering temperatures are becoming more common not just in Britain, but across the world, and climate scientists have little doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is a significant driver of that change.

To make matters worse, most buildings in Britain are designed to retain heat, because cold temperatures have, in the past, been a bigger concern. Also, few homes have air conditioning, making people particularly vulnerable when temperatures soar.

“We’re asking people to keep an eye out for their neighbours and those who may be vulnerable,” Britain’s health secretary, Steve Barclay, said on Saturday, adding that extra measures had been added for ambulance services, including additional working hours.

The government held an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss preparations for the heat, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is stepping down, reportedly did not attend, opting instead to hold a farewell party, according to local news media reports.

Transportation services will also be affected on Monday and Tuesday, with Transport for London, the city’s transit authority, advising people to make only essential trips.

Schools have not been told to close, although some will. Parents’ reactions were mixed.

“Some of the windows don’t open; there’s no fans, no air conditioning,” said Guy Arnel, 44, of Ascot, a town west of London, whose 18-year-old daughter’s school opted to offer classes remotely early in the week. “It is probably better off not being in a heat box like that.” Some parents planned to have their children stay home, even if schools were open.

“We’ll be keeping our children at home so that I can monitor what they eat, what they drink and how they are in themselves,” said Zoe, 46, who has 8-year-old twins, one of whom has autism and reduced kidney function, rendering him particularly vulnerable to the heat.

“In this situation, I’m very happy to play the ‘mother knows best’ card,” said Zoe, who lives in Cheshire in northwest England and asked to be identified by her first name over privacy concerns.

Some hospitals said they would cancel nonemergency operations, citing the risk to both patients and staff members.

“We have taken the decision to stand down routine outpatient appointments and surgery on Monday and Tuesday because many of the patients travelling to these appointments are frail and at increased risk, and due to the unpredictable nature of very high temperatures on demand for emergency care,” Joe Harrison, CEO of Milton Keynes University Hospital, said on Twitter.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities were also preparing for the weather.
At Forrester Court Care Home in London, which provides care to vulnerable patients, including those with dementia, the unit’s team leader, Jessie Lau, said staff members were making sure to keep residents hydrated and were also handing out ice cream. Like most buildings in Britain, the home lacks air conditioning, and Lau said the staff had asked for extra fans to offset the heat.

Pedestrians cool off with their feet in the water of the Trafalgar Square fountain in central London on July 13, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

James Clear, hotel services manager at Care UK, which operates more than 150 care homes across Britain, including Forrester Court, emphasised the broad effort to keep patients hydrated, saying in a statement, “From a maintenance person sitting down with a resident for a midmorning cuppa to a carer encouraging people to have a piece of fruit as a snack, every interaction helps.”

Retailers have been reporting unusual demand for fans and air-conditioning units – items traditionally thought of as unnecessary because of the country’s normally mild climate.

“As the UK heat wave continues, the nation is going to lengthy measures to keep cool from the rising temperatures, splashing out on all sorts of products in the last few weeks, including fans,” said Lara Brittain, an appliances expert at Currys, the largest electronics retailer in Britain.

A sign alerts customer they have four wall fans left, in a shop in Blackpool, north west England, on July 17, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Brittain said Currys had seen a 300% increase in the sale of fans in the past three days compared with the previous week.

A spokesperson for John Lewis, one of Britain’s largest department stores, said that sales of fans were up more than 250 per cent in the past week compared with last year and that air-conditioner sales were up more than 525 per cent over last year.

Britain’s RAC, which provides roadside assistance and other automotive services, said it was expecting a major surge in breakdowns as cars overheat and echoed the government’s calls to avoid unnecessary travel.

Travel by train was being discouraged, too. Network Rail, which operates most of Britain’s railway network, has advised people not to use trains because of the risks of heat buckling the tracks and trackside fires.

Many people said they were planning to stay close to home.

“I’m 100 per cent working from home this Monday because of the heat,” said Bertie Maher, 25, who works for an e-commerce company in London. “I can have a cold shower during the day and can catch a bit of sun for 20 minutes during my lunch break.”

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