The UK government held an emergency response meeting on Saturday to plan for record high temperatures next week after meteorological authorities issued their first-ever ‘red’ warning for extreme heat.
The alert covers large parts of England on Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for the first time, posing a risk of serious illness and even death in healthy people, the UK Met Office, the country’s meteorological service, said on Friday.
The British heat record is 38.7°C (101.7°F), set in 2019.
After chairing the meeting, Cabinet Minister Kit Malthouse warned that transport services would be significantly affected.
“The heat will affect the tracks, for example, so the trains have to run slower. There may be fewer services,” he told the BBC. “People need to be on their toes in the event of a disruption. If they don’t have to travel, this can be a time to work from home.
Rail passengers and users of the London Underground have been advised not to travel on Monday and Tuesday unless absolutely necessary. With children and the elderly considered particularly vulnerable to high temperatures, schools and nursing homes have been urged to take action to protect students and elderly residents. Most schools in England are still in session until the end of next week.
The alert comes as scientists say climate change is increasing the likelihood of exceptional heat waves in Britain, a country unaccustomed to such temperatures. Few homes, apartments, schools or small businesses in the country have air conditioning.
Britain generally has moderate summer temperatures. In the UK, average July temperatures range from a daily high of 21 C (70 F) to a low of 12 C (53 F).
London Mayor Sadiq Khan met with officials from the National Health Service, police, fire and other emergency services on Friday to discuss plans for dealing with the heat-related emergency.
A doctor has warned that the coming heat wave and a rise in COVID-19 infections are causing a nightmare for health workers.
“Many hospital buildings are very old, particularly in London, and many have no air conditioning and windows that don’t open – so they are extremely hot,” said consultant Dr Claire Bronze, 38. in an emergency room in London. “Some staff are still required to wear PPE – so plastic gowns, masks, gloves – in addition to their normal uniform, which as you can imagine means people will quickly get very hot and get dehydrated.”