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WEATHER

Health warnings as Europe swelters under heatwave

Swathes of Western Europe wilted under intense heat Friday, with socially-distanced crowds seeking relief in fountains and pools as authorities warned of health and wildfire risks.

Health warnings as Europe swelters under heatwave
Children play in a fountain to cool off in the center of Lyon, on July 30, 2020, as a heat wave hits France. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

From Britain to Italy, temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) made face masks almost unbearable for many, as more cities begin requiring them outdoors to prevent surges in COVID-19 cases.

“Even in this stifling heat, it's better to put up with 38 degrees than catch the coronavirus,” said Daniela Iannelli, a 55-year-old municipal employee in Rome.

Fourteen Italian cities were placed on high alert, while France issued warnings for about one-third of the country's 101 departments.

Paris officials imposed driving restrictions to limit ozone pollution as tens of thousands of vacationers prepared to flee to cooler climes, according to the nation's traffic surveillance agency.

Earlier Friday, a dramatic wildfire fanned by high winds on France's southwestern Atlantic coast was brought under control after it destroyed nearly a dozen homes and forced about 100 people to evacuate.

The blaze broke out late Thursday in the Chiberta forest park at Anglet, whose beaches just north of Biarritz draw surfers from around the world.

It was the latest of several in southern and central France this week, kicking off the annual fire season which officials warn could be worsened by drought and dry heat.

“The heatwave requires the state to be vigilant, and everyone to be cautious,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said while visiting firefighters in Bourg-en-Bresse, southeastern France. Officials also urged families and neighbours to check in on the elderly, and retirement homes were on high alert since air-conditioners are being discouraged over fears they could foster coronavirus contagion.

An increase in COVID-19 cases prompted French officials to tighten face mask requirements in several cities this week, with many making them mandatory outdoors as well as in enclosed public spaces.

Hottest day this year

In the Netherlands, beachgoers were told to avoid the coastal resort of Zandvoort near Amsterdam, with public safety authorities saying it was too crowded to maintain social distancing.

“There are much quieter beaches on our coast and on other waters, I advise you to look for them,” the regional safety authority chairperson Marianne Schuurmans was quoted as saying by Dutch media.

Long queues of cyclists formed to take the ferry to Schiermonnikoog, one of the West Frisian islands near the German border, as temperatures in the southern Netherlands jumped to 35 Celsius.

Britain's national weather service said it was “the hottest day of the year by some way”, with the mercury climbing to 37.8 degrees at London's Heathrow Airport.

Many in the capital packed onto trains heading for Brighton on the southern coast. Austria and Bulgaria also reported their hottest day yet this year, with Vienna topping 37 degrees before a summer storm brought some relief.

The Spanish weather service said most of the country was scorching under an air mass moving north from Africa, with Madrid reporting 38 degrees while several cities in the interior saw 40 degrees or more.

As the traditional August holidays approach, swimming pools were in high demand despite face mask requirements.

In Germany, which also recorded its hottest day for 2020  with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees in parts of the south, public pools imposed limits on swimmer numbers in a bid to reduce the infection risk, with online-only ticket sales, no access to the showers or changing rooms and a 1.5-metre distance to be observed in the pools and out. Authorities also urged people to observe a safe distance between one another at rivers and lakes.

Western Europe can expect relief from the high temperatures from Saturday, forecasts show.

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WEATHER

How to avoid getting heat exhaustion in Austria’s scorching weather

As Austria swelters in increasingly hot temperatures, it's important to keep an eye out for heat exhaustion and look after those, such as children and the elderly, who may be more susceptible to heat-related problems.

How to avoid getting heat exhaustion in Austria's scorching weather

Temperatures rose to highs of 37C in some parts of Austria on Friday. And although we’re going some respite from the heatwave with cooler temperatures forecast for the coming week, the trend for warmer summers is clearly on the up.

According to data from Austrian meteorology institute ZAMG, the number of days with temperatures of at least 30C has risen dramatically over the last few decades.

From 1961 to 1990, there were between three and 12 hot days per year in the Austrian provincial capitals, with a maximum of 20 hot days; and from 1991 to 2020, there were between nine and 23 hot days.

And, this year, July’s heatwave has led to an increase in excess deaths.

Deaths rose in the third week of July – which saw very high temperatures – after falling following April’s Omicron wave, according to Statistics Austria.

Over those seven days, 1,827 people died in Austria – 275 more than in the previous week and 24 percent more than the average of that period from 2015 – 2019 (ie pre-Covid), Statistics Austria General Director Tobias Thomas said.

So what we can do to prevent becoming unwell from the heat?

Older people, children and those with long-term health conditions (such as heart problems) can be particularly susceptible to health issues related to hot and humid weather, such as heat exhaustion, dehydration and heatstroke because it can be harder for their bodies to stay cool.  

It’s therefore a good idea to check in on relatives, friends and neighbours when temperatures are spiralling, if you can.

The typical symptoms of heat exhaustion to look out for include excessive sweating and clammy skin, dizziness and confusion, drowsiness, nausea, a rapid heart beat and/or breathing, headache, muscle cramps, increased thirst and a temperature of 38C or higher. 

Children may also become floppy and sleepy.

It’s really important to cool someone down quickly if they’re showing these symptoms to avoid them developing heatstroke, which can be very serious if it’s not dealt with quickly.

So how can you do that?

Move them somewhere cool, ask them to lie down with their feet slightly raised, get them to drink lots of water and cool their skin with water and/or fans.

To stop things getting to this stage and to avoid becoming dehydrated, health experts recommend drinking plenty of cold drinks; taking cool showers (or baths); keeping blinds/curtains closed at home during the hottest parts of the day and only ventilating rooms when the air temperature is cool; using fans to move air around; wearing pale, loose clothes; sprinkling water over skin and clothes; staying out of the sun at its hottest time (11am – 3pm); not drinking too much alcohol or overdoing the exercise.  

Don’t forget: Austria has a ‘heat’ hotline people can call for personal advice on how to best protect themselves from the heat under the free hotline 050 555 555. In addition, if you or someone you know shows any signs of heat stroke or other health problems, call the country’s health number on 1450.

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