Copenhagen, 5 May 2020
For much of the WHO European Region, we need to be prepared for a long, hot summer. Weather services are expecting the coming summer to be warmer and drier than usual in the Region. The public, medical professionals and public health authorities need to be prepared for heatwaves and to prevent and tackle the possible health consequences of heat exposure. This is particularly important this year due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak compounding issues caused by extended periods of hot weather, while many people, including groups particularly vulnerable to both the infection and heat, might be advised or required to remain at home as potential lockdowns are in place.
The frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves is increasing, with a significant intensifying trend in the Region, which is of concern for public health. Due to climate change, the potential for hazardous exposure to extreme heat has been worsening in the last decades, and will continue to worsen in the Region in the future.
Recent studies have estimated that the heatwave probability has increased for 31 European cities (European Union capitals plus London, Moscow, Oslo and Zurich), and found that all the investigated European metropolitan areas will be more vulnerable to extreme heat in the coming decades. The scientific consensus is that climate change will increase the heat-related burden of disease if we do not implement strong levels of adaptation. This is also of great importance to avoid placing an additional burden on health-care systems at a time when they are already severely stretched to treat COVID-19 patients.
Every year, high temperatures affect the health of many people, particularly older people, infants, people who work outdoors and the chronically ill. Heat can trigger exhaustion and heat stroke, and can aggravate existing conditions – such as cardiovascular, respiratory, kidney or mental diseases. The adverse health effects of hot weather are largely preventable through good public health practice, while also following the advice to protect yourself from COVID-19.
Keep cool in the heat
During periods of hot weather, it is important to keep cool to avoid the negative health effects of heat.
- Keep out of the heat.
Avoid going out and doing strenuous activity during the hottest time of day. Take advantage of special shopping times for vulnerable groups whenever available. Stay in the shade, do not leave children or animals in parked vehicles, and if necessary and possible, spend 2–3 hours of the day in a cool place while respecting physical distance of at least 1 meter.
- Keep your home cool.
Use the night air to cool down your home. Reduce the heat load inside the apartment or house during the day by using blinds or shutters and turning off as many electrical devices as possible.
- Keep your body cool and hydrated.
Use light and loose-fitting clothing and bed linen, take cool showers or baths, and drink water regularly, while avoiding sugary, alcoholic or caffeinated drinks.
- Keep cool during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Avoid exposure to the sun or to temperatures higher than 25°C, as there is no evidence that this prevents or cures COVID-19, and it increases your risk of sunburn and heat-related illness. You can catch COVID-19 no matter how sunny or hot the weather is, so protect yourself and others by washing your hands regularly, coughing into your folded elbow or a tissue, and avoiding touching your face.
While taking care of yourself, plan to check on family, friends and neighbours who spend much of their time alone. Vulnerable people might need assistance on hot days, and if anyone you know is at risk, help them to get advice and support while respecting physical distancing recommendations.
Heat–health action plans
WHO/Europe recommends countries and regions to develop and implement heat–health action plans. These plans aim to prevent, react to and contain heat-related risks to health, and they should include measures for long-term prevention, medium-term preparation and short-term emergency measures. This year in particular, it is recommended that even existing heat–health action plans be reviewed to take into consideration measures in place to reduce and prevent COVID-19 transmission.