'Difficult days ahead' warns minister as France bakes in 40°C heat

After heavy loss of life in 2003 heatwave, French ministry of health has issued plenty of advance health warnings
After heavy loss of life in 2003 heatwave, French ministry of health has issued plenty of advance health warnings ©Ministere de la Santé

With 41°C in the south of the Loire on Thursday, 45°C in the southern towns of Nîmes and Carpentras on Friday, and temperatures way above 40°C on Saturday in Paris, Meteo France has forecast unprecedented temperatures for the month of June - not seen since 1947. France’s health minister Agnès Buzyn has warned the three days will be “difficult”.


What’s more “while we will have almost 40C in Paris, the atmosphere will be so heavy [with humidity] that we will feel the heat as if it were 47C,” meteorologist Guillaume Séchet told Le Parisien.

After 4 days of heatwave affecting most of the country “we have seen an increase in the number of calls to Emergency services and SOS Medecins as well as increased numbers going to A&E”, Buzyn said. 

Hospitals and ambulances are on standby to deal with an expected spike in calls.

Still reeling from the heatwave in 2003 when unusually high temperatures in August led to 15,000 deaths nationwide, France has rolled out an extensive national warning campaign this time round. 

The Ministry of Health in France is broadcasting warnings on TV and radio and train stations, calling for residents to stay hydrated, check on the elderly and neighbours and avoid becoming overheated.

Buzyn said most people were behaving responsibly but she called out those who “continue to go jogging between midday and 2pm” when the sun is at its strongest.

And bemoaned "parents who leave their children in the car while they do a bit of shopping”.

Exceptional temperatures, exceptional measures

The unprecedented temperatures for the month of June, not seen since 1947, have prompted a range of precautionary measures. 

Hundreds of schools across France, some of which are ill-adapted to such high temperatures, have closed for Thursday and Friday, and big cities, including Paris, have imposed driving restrictions to try and reduce air pollution.

On Thursday, the Minister of Agriculture announced a ban on the transportation of animals for “several days” saying "animal welfare is important”.

Paris has set up special phonelines and “cool rooms“ in government buildings available between 2pm and 6pm and has opened pools for late night swimming.

1,000 new drinking fountains have been installed in the capital and charities are handing out water bottles to people living on the street.

Accord, one of France’s largest hotel chains has opened air-conditioned rooms in its 1,700 hotels for vulnerable old people.

3 victims so far

Three people have died this week of “thermal shock” due to the boiling temperatures, according to local media reports.

On Monday one man died after entering the sea by Marseillan-Plage. News site Midi Libre reported he had suffered thermal shock after moving from the beach to the water.

On Tuesday, two people, aged 62 and 75, reportedly died in similar circumstances.

France unprepared  -  Greens

David Belliard from the Green party (EELV) said France has once again been caught unprepared and was “still using emergency measures” to tackle the heatwave “notably in terms of information”.

"We have peaks in pollution, heatwaves, and we react to them rather than warning and preparing for them," he told Sud Radio on Thursday.

"We've had 30 years of inaction; we haven’t sufficiently reacted to get towns out of the individual car-culture”.

He called for better public transport, and that it should be free when air pollution was at its highest, adding that France was "not in a position to respond to major climatic and environmental challenges".

“There have always been heatwaves, the problem is their frequency”, he said, questioning whether "we would be able to continue to live in Paris in 20 or 30 years when peak temperatures will reach 50 degrees Celsius."

Speaking from Tokyo where he is attending the G20 summit, President Emmanuel Macron said such heatwaves would set to continue and that he had called on the government to study how French society could best adapt.

One winner.. wine

One section of French society has welcomed the heat. French winemakers said the hot weather could produce a superior vintage.

"Two of three days of heatwave in Bordeaux at this time, it's magic!" Philippe Bardet, head of the Bordeaux Wine Council, told AFP. 

Temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius would help burn off any of the mildew caused by residual damp, which is "very, very good for quality", Bardet said. 


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