With temperatures set to soar as high as 40C (104F) in some European capitals, a leading humanitarian organization has urged people to check on their neighbors and loved ones who might struggle to cope with the searing heat.
In a statement on Wednesday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said European meteorological offices have forecast temperatures in France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and Romania to be in the mid- to high-30s range during the week.
Paris and Madrid are forecast to reach around 40C (104F) on Friday.
To prevent loss of life, the Geneva-based IFRC urged people to check in on their vulnerable neighbors, relatives, and friends, while following COVID-19 safety measures.
“Some older people are unable to spend on things like air conditioning. They may be socially isolated,” said Dr. Aneta Trgachevska, IFRC’s acting health coordinator for Europe.
“When coupled with thermoregulation problems, reduced water intake and physical ability, and chronic diseases, there could potentially be a large at-risk group.”
She said there is also concern over the potential compounding impact of COVID-19 during this period of soaring temperatures.
“Managing the impact of heat and COVID-19 at the same time poses a challenge to frontline workers, health care systems, and local communities,” she said.
“The spread of COVID-19 will not stop in the summer. On the contrary, it increases the risk of extreme heat by compromising our usual coping strategies.”
She explained that people who would usually visit public places like parks, libraries, and shopping malls to find refuge from the heat may be reluctant to leave their homes due to fear of infection.
Some people may avoid seeking medical care for heatstroke.
“While self-isolation is advisable for vulnerable people during a pandemic, during a heatwave, it could be life-threatening, especially for people living alone without home cooling systems,” said the IFRC official.
To ensure people’s loved ones and neighbors stay safe, they should check on them daily through phone or video calls.
“If you need to help someone physically, make sure to follow hygiene rules, such as wearing a mask and washing your hands upon entering someone’s home,” Dr. Trgachevska added.
According to the IFRC, people who are most vulnerable to heat stress are also most at risk of contracting COVID-19.
These include people older than 65, pregnant women, those with underlying health conditions, prisoners, and marginalized groups such as homeless people and migrants.
Due to the pandemic, health workers and first responders are also more prone to heat stress as they need to wear personal protective equipment.
Heatwaves can have a catastrophic human toll, the IFRC said.
In 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died during a record-breaking heatwave in Europe.
“Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of heatwaves globally,” the statement added.
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