Forecasters say the heatwave is unprecedented in its dangers, with thousands of lives at risk, reports ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery
Ambulance services are to receive more support over the coming days, the health secretary has said, as the UK braces for expected record-breaking and deadly high temperatures.
Steve Barclay also urged people to check on neighbours, friends and family who may be more vulnerable to the heat.
Temperatures in England could hit as high as 40C early next week, prompting the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to increase its heat health warning from level three to level four - a national emergency - while experts have warned that even healthy people are at risk of illness and death.
Meteorologists have given an 80% chance of the mercury topping the UK’s record temperature of 38.7C set in Cambridge in 2019, while there is a 50% chance of the 40C barrier broken somewhere in the red warning zone, which has never happened before.
Speaking after the government held the second emergency Cobra meeting in three days - which Prime Minister Boris Johnson is understood to have not attended - Mr Barclay urged to people to seek remain hydrated, stay in the shade and cover up to avoid the sun.
"We're asking people to keep an eye out for their neighbours and those that might be vulnerable," Mr Barclay said.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay says the public should look out for each other amidst the heatwave
He continued that the government was "putting in additional contingency support" to help England's ambulance trusts (health is a devolved matter) which are likely to come under increase pressure as the high temperatures make people unwell.
The health secretary said ambulance trusts would have more call handlers, more paramedics on duty and the NHS 111 phone line would also have more resources.
He added there would also be increased capacity on hospital wards and more would be done to discharge those who are able to leave.
The weather the UK is expected to experience is unprecedented, says ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery
The highest temperatures are forecast for Monday and Tuesday, before the weather returns to more normal levels on Wednesday.
The Met Office has warned that the high temperatures will put people's lives at risk.
Health officials fear people living alone on upper floors of buildings (which are likely to get warmer) are among those who could perish, with over-75s and people with severe physical or mental illness also vulnerable.
The public have been warned to watch out for sunburn and heat exhaustion, with changes in working practices and daily routines recommended.
Met Office spokesperson Grahame Madge described the situation as "very serious".
“If people have vulnerable relatives or neighbours, now is the time to make sure they’re putting suitable measures in place to be able to cope with the heat because if the forecast is as we think it will be in the red warning area, then people’s lives are at risk," he added.
Trying to keep cool, drinking plenty of water and avoiding the sun when it is hottest - especially between 11am and 3pm- are some of the ways to protect the most at risk.
After chairing the Cobra meeting, Cabinet Office Minister Kit Malthouse told the BBC: “Obviously the transport providers are messaging people that they should only travel if they really need to on Monday and Tuesday.
“Services are going to be significantly affected. The heat will affect rails, for example, so the trains have to run slower. There may be fewer services. People need to be on their guard for disruption.
“If they don’t have to travel, this may be a moment to work from home.”
Mr Malthouse also said steps have been taken to ensure hospitals and ambulances that may come under pressure were prepared, while schools were being issued with guidance to enable them to remain open.
On Friday, a national emergency was declared after a red extreme heat warning - which means there is a risk to life and daily routines will need to change - was issued for the first time.
The Met Office's highest warning covers an area including London, Manchester and York on Monday and Tuesday.
On top of this warning, England's heat-health alert has been upgraded to Level 4, a national emergency warning that even the fit and healthy could fall ill or die, not just the high-risk and vulnerable groups.
It means the weather requires “a multi‑sector response at national and regional levels”.
A level three heat health alert is in place for the rest of England, Wales and southern Scotland - where temperatures are expected to hit at least 30C - indicating that those who are vulnerable are at risk.
Saturday kick-started the beginning of the heatwave, with Heathrow Airport and Kew Gardens, in west London, recording the highest temperature of 29.1C.
The warm weather saw increased demand for water in some parts, with South East water confirming residents in Challock and Molash, in Kent, having no water due to “continuous hot weather and significantly increased demand for water” putting “significant pressure on our network”.
A statement from the supplier said: “We’re continuing to work on restoring your supplies, and will continue to work on this overnight.
“As a precaution, we’re going to open up the bottled water station at Challock Village Hall tomorrow morning, at 8am.
“The team will be there until 7pm tomorrow night.”
Experts have said that climate change is making heatwaves more likely as well as more intense and lasting longer.
Met Office Chief Executive Penny Endersby said people can find it hard to to know what to expect when “climate change has driven such unprecedented severe weather events”.
“Here in the UK we’re used to treating a hot spell as a chance to go and play in the sun,” she added.
“This is not that sort of weather.”
What is the weather forecasted to be like over the coming days?
Meteorologists have said there is an 80% chance of the mercury topping the UK’s record temperature of 38.7C set in Cambridge in 2019.
Scorching temperatures are predicted for Monday, with Peterborough expected to hit 37C and Milton Keynes, Norwich and Lincoln thought to hit 36C.
Temperatures are forecast to increase by several more degrees on Tuesday – up to the mid-30s for much of England and Wales.
There is a 50% chance of temperatures reaching 40C somewhere in the UK that day, likely along the A1 corridor which runs from London to Scotland through counties including Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and the North East.
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What impact will the record temperatures have?
Railway speed restrictions may be needed to avoid any potential damage as extreme temperatures can cause the tracks to buckle.
NHS leaders have been warned there would be increased demand for ambulances, and patients could be at risk if left outside hospitals in emergency vehicles in the scorching temperatures.
The heatwave, which is spreading across Europe and has fuelled wildfires in Portugal, France and Spain, has intensified problems with Covid-hit medical staff and ongoing delays accessing A&E departments.
Some southern schools are also considering closing on Monday and Tuesday – and the National Education Union issued a statement saying it would support headteachers taking this decision.
On the roads, gritters are planning to spread sand to reduce melting, and the RAC has warned more drivers will likely need help as cars overheat in the scorching temperatures.
Jake Kelly, of Network Rail, warned that journeys will take “significantly longer and delays are likely as speed restrictions are introduced to keep passengers and railway staff safe”.
Train operators have warned passengers to avoid travelling on Monday and Tuesday unless their journey is “absolutely necessary”.