Large parts of England are under the first ever red warning for extreme heat, with temperatures set to surge to 40C next week. Rupert Evelyn reports.
A red warning for extreme heat has been issued in much of England for the first time ever – meaning there is a “very likely” risk to life.
In another first, 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.
Professor Isabel Oliver from the UK Health Security Agency said it issued this warning "because the Met Office predicts exceptionally high temperatures particularly on Monday and Tuesday next week".
She added: "We know that these high temperatures can be harmful to health, including excess deaths."
There is a 50% chance of the 40C barrier broken somewhere in the red warning zone, which has never happened before.
The Met Office, which has issued the red warning, advises people “should take action now to keep yourself and others safe” and avoid travelling, where possible.
“Substantial disruption” is expected to travel and energy supplies, while there may also be widespread damage to property and infrastructure, according to the Met Office’s website.
Since Monday, parts of the UK had been issued an amber warning, indicating there could be a danger to life or potential serious illness.
The amber warning for extreme heat for much of England and Wales had been put in place until the end of Tuesday, with the hot spell expected to peak at the start of next week, but has now been upgraded in England.
Wales, meanwhile, remains under an amber warning.
Tuesday could be the hottest day and there is an 80% chance the 38.7C (101.7F) set in Cambridge in July 2019 will be exceeded.
What's the danger?
The extreme weather has already increased the strain on hospital and train services.
Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse has said the government is preparing for a “surge” in demand on the NHS and other services due to the expected heatwave.
Weather Presenter Sally Williams explains what heatwaves are and what you can do to stay cool
After chairing a meeting of the Cobra civil contingencies committee in Whitehall, Mr Malthouse urged the public to look out for people who were particularly vulnerable in the heat.
Heatwaves have been made hotter, longer and more frequent by climate change, and experts have warned of the need to adapt homes and cities in the UK for a future of more intense – and deadly – summer heat.
Ambulance services are already on the highest level of alert as difficulties with the hot weather combine with Covid-19 absences among staff and ongoing delays handing patients over to A&E.
The chief executive of Milton Keynes University Hospital said routine outpatient appointments and surgery would not go ahead on Monday and Tuesday following the heat warning.
“We have taken the decision to stand down routine outpatient appointments and surgery on Monday and Tuesday because many of 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 and on care environment," Joe Harrison wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, people who booked to have their Covid jab in parts of the Thames Valley have had their appointments cancelled in the "interests of safety" on Monday and Tuesday due to the heatwave.
London Ambulance Service urged the public to support it as the heat continues by only calling 999 in the event of a life-threatening emergency, keeping hydrated and staying out of the sun during the hottest periods of the day.
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Rail passengers in England and Wales are being warned to only travel if absolutely necessary during the potentially record-breaking temperatures.
The impact on train services will vary by region, but journeys will take significantly longer and there is a high likelihood of cancellations, delays and last-minute alterations.
Passengers who choose to travel despite the warning are being advised to check the status of their journey before travelling and ensure they are well-prepared for the extreme conditions – wearing cool clothes, taking handheld fans and ensuring they have plenty of water to drink.
The Royal Life Saving Society UK, meanwhile, warned people about the dangers of trying to cool off in lakes, quarries, rivers and other waterways in the extremely hot weather.
Hot weather can put a strain on the heart and lungs, with older people, those with pre-existing health conditions and young children particularly at risk.
It can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion or even heatstroke, and affect the ability to work or concentrate.
So, how can we stay safe?
Look out for those who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated, particularly older people, those with underlying conditions and people who lie alone.
Those who do live alone are being encouraged to ask a friend or relative to phone to check they are not have having difficulties during extreme heat.
Stay cool indoors, by closing curtains in rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler, and remember it might be cooler outdoors.
Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and avoid too much alcohol.
Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially babies, young children or animals.
Try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm, when the sun’s UV rays are strongest.
If you have to go out in the heat, try to walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat.
Avoid physical activity in the hottest parts of the day.
Carry water when travelling.
Check the latest weather forecast and temperature warnings.
While going for a swim can be a good way to cool down, people are warned to head for lifeguarded swimming sites, to remember that water is often much colder than it looks, not to go too far from shore or swim against currents, and to always take a friend when swimming.