SOARING temperatures seen across the country are to blame for excess deaths – not coronavirus infections, experts have claimed.
Recent data revealed that the heatwave may have “killed the equivalent of a jumbo-jet full of people over the space of a week” – after it was reported there were 800 excess deaths.
In the second half of August, Brits are set to bake once more, as mercury is expected to be hotter than usual.
Experts have now warned that more care needs to be taken in hot weather.
Data from the week ending July 23, shows there were 9,744 deaths in England and Wales.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) states that this is 7.2 per cent above the five-year average.
While the number of Covid deaths did increase from 308 in the week ending July 23 compared with 213 the previous week, experts said the increase in deaths overall may be due to the heatwave witnessed last month.
Professor Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, The Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia explained: “The past three weeks of ONS death statistics show reported deaths exceeding the average for the same week for the years 2015 to 2019.
“In the period 3rd to 23rd July there were 1,667 excess deaths recorded of which only 728 (44 per cent) were recorded as being due to Covid.
“So although Covid will have contributed to these excess deaths it cannot explain the majority.
“I suspect that some of these excess deaths will be related to the heat wave that we saw in the middle of the month.”
The Met Office had previously issued weather warnings to Brits after temperatures soared to 32C.
Many people struggle with the heat and it’s imperative that in hot weather, you look out for older and younger people – as they might not always be able to care for themselves.
Prof Hunter added: “In a systematic review of the risk of death during heat wave the biggest risk factors for death during a heat wave were being confined to bed, not leaving home daily, being unable to care for oneself and pre-existing psychiatric illness.
“Amongst a range of other factors that were associated with a reduced risk of death was increased social contact.
“The message here is that during a heatwave, even during Covid, it is important that we still visit our more vulnerable friends, relatives and neighbours because that is one of the ways that we can reduce deaths.”
Prof Hannah Cloke, Professor of Hydrology, University of Reading said the heatwave had been deadly and that the Met Office had been right to issue warnings.
She explained: “These latest data on excess mortality from the ONS for the week ending 23 July shows around 800 more deaths than we would expect at this time of year. Less than half of deaths registered suggest Covid-19 as a cause.
“While the true cause of these extra deaths will need to be investigated more closely, this was the week of the heatwave across a large part of the country, with maximum temperatures reaching the 30s and minimum temperatures not dipping much below the high teens.”
Prof Cloke added that the data is the first indicator of the impact that the heatwave had on deaths.
She added: “The heat may have just killed the equivalent of a jumbo-jet full of people over the space of a week.
How to stay safe in the heatwave
- close curtains on rooms that face the sun to keep it cooler indoors and remember it may be cooler outdoors than indoors
- drink plenty of fluids – take plenty of water with you when you head out – and avoid excess alcohol
- try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm, when the UV rays are strongest and it will be hottest
- use your oven as little as possible to avoid any extra heat
- cool your bed down by popping your sheets or hot water bottle in the freezer just before bed
- create a homemade ‘air con’ system by sitting a fan behind a bowl full of ice water
- walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat, if you have to go out in the heat
- avoid exercise or exerting yourself in the hottest parts of the day
- never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially infants, young children or animals
- look out for those who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated – older people, those with underlying conditions and those who live alone are particularly at risk
“This suggests that the Met Office was right to issue its first ever warning for heat risk. But it also suggests that telling people about the risk of heat is not enough.
“We need to urgently review the UK’s plans to cope with current and future heatwaves, or we will be watching more people die from heatwaves year after year.
“It would be unacceptable for society to accept this number of deaths from a flood or an accident. It is entirely unacceptable to accept this number of deaths from heat, especially when we know we are facing a growing problem in the future.”
The Met Office’s forecast predicts “a drier and warmer than average period from the middle of August” with “above average temperatures”.
And the mercury could rise to around 30C.
The nation will first have to get through a period of showers and downpours, with more wet weather predicted over the next two weeks.
Met Office meteorologist Dan Stroud said: “It is pretty grim out there especially this week.
“Thursday is not looking like a nice day, almost autumnal in terms of rain.
“But there is a signal from roughly August 10 to 11 for dryer conditions to become more prevalent. Temperatures will be below normal at first but tending to be above average from mid-month, especially across the North.”