Boris Johnson has been accused of being “clocked off” as it emerged that he would not chair Monday afternoon’s Cobra emergency committee on the extreme temperature, as a teenage boy became the fourth UK person in a week to be found dead in a body of water.
The government committee was due to meet on Monday afternoon, as UK temperatures approached the 38.7C (101.6F) record, to consider the overall response to the extreme weather.
Thames Valley police said on Monday that a 16-year-old boy had died after getting into difficulty in Bray Lake, near Maidenhead, Berkshire.
Earlier, Northumbria police said a body found in a river near Ovingham, Northumberland, was believed to be that of a 13-year-old boy who went missing after entering the water on Sunday.
On Saturday, a 16-year-old boy died in Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, and a 50-year-old man died in a reservoir near Leeds.
A high of 37.5C (99.5F) was recorded in Kew Gardens, west London, by 3pm on Monday, with forecasters predicting highs of 38C that could threaten the record of 38.7C set in Cambridge in 2019.
Operators slowed down trains across the rail network owing to fears of tracks buckling, schools were closed in counties including Nottinghamshire and Hampshire, and extra call handlers were laid on to deal with an expected surge in 999 ambulance calls and inquiries to the NHS 111 line.
The shadow levelling up secretary, Lisa Nandy, said on Monday: “We think the government ought to do a number of things: first is to turn up to work.” She told Sky News the prime minister has “clearly clocked off … and so have many of his ministers in his government”.
Kit Malthouse, the Cabinet Office minister due to chair the Cobra meeting, said Labour’s accusation was unfair, while Downing Street said Johnson, who spent the morning at Farnborough airshow, was being kept “fully briefed”.
Kit Malthouse defends Boris Johnson missing Cobra heatwave meeting – video
By lunchtime on Monday, temperatures were above 30C across most of England, with Baltasound in the Shetland Islands the coolest place in the UK at 13C.
The first “emergency” level 4 heat-health alert, which was issued by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), is in effect alongside a Met Office red extreme heat warning for a large part of England.
Drivers appeared to be heeding calls to avoid unnecessary journeys, with congestion levels down by 43% in Birmingham and similarly lower in London and Manchester, according to figures from the location technology provider TomTom.
Penelope Endersby, the Met Office chief executive, said: “We may well see the hottest day in the UK in history.” But she added that Tuesday was expected to be hotter, with 43C appearing as a possibility in modelling.
Endersby said the heatwave would not have happened without climate change, and warned: “By 2100, we’re expecting [such temperatures] … anywhere between one in 15 and one in three years, depending on the emissions pathways we take between now and then.”
After the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, said people should be resilient enough to “enjoy the sunshine”, Endersby addressed those who “think that maybe we shouldn’t be telling them to worry about heat the way we tell them to worry about storms or wind”.
She said: “Heat undoubtedly causes many hundreds, thousands of excess deaths in heatwaves, so people do need to take care and follow the advice we’ve been putting out about keeping in the shade, keeping cool, keeping hydrated.”
Prof Hannah Cloke, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, said: “We know that heatwaves are killers.
“We still have people still shrugging their shoulders saying, ‘This is [just] summer’ … Last year’s heatwave in the UK killed at least 10 times as many people as the Grenfell [Tower] fire [which killed 72].”
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the health service had an estate that was crumbling: “So many are not the kind of buildings that have got the adaptability to these kinds of challenges.”
Mike Tipton, a professor of physiology at the University of Portsmouth, advised the public to avoid beaches and warned that A&E departments risked being filled with people with sunburn.
“It’s not a great idea to go and sit exposed in these conditions,” he said. He also advised fit and healthy people to avoid exercise, and the rest to prevent their bodies from overheating.
Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST
Care homes, which house many of the people most vulnerable to cardiovascular problems caused by heat, have been urged by UKHSA to check indoor temperatures regularly, provide access to “cool rooms”, closely monitor vulnerable individuals, shade windows, and turn off unnecessary lights and equipment.
Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, urged family and friends to check on people who rely on home care in the middle of the day, when they might not be scheduled for a visit from a professional care worker.
She said dementia care homes were facing a particular challenge as residents might not understand the need to drink more regularly, take off layers of clothing or put their feet in cold water to cool down.
There may also be an increase in altercations, adding to the burden on care home staff to monitor residents at a time when there are more than 100,000 vacancies in the sector, Ahmed said.
“Only a very small proportion of care homes will be able to put air conditioning on,” she said. “The stock that is five years or older won’t have that. I am especially worried about homes that are converted buildings and especially the [people in] the upper floors.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Thomas Waite, urged people to help anyone showing symptoms of heat exhaustion, which he said include excessive sweating, cramps, nausea and vomiting, and dizziness.
“That’s really quite easily treated,” he said. “Get them into the cool, get them into the shade, give them some fluid to rehydrate – it can be water, it can be sports drinks or rehydration fluids – and most people will make a good recovery in about 30 minutes or so.”
Elsewhere in Europe, firefighters in Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Morocco were battling fires that have destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of forest and were expected to continue this week amid blistering temperatures.
Temperatures have soared to 47C in Portugal and 45C in Spain, and were expected to rise above 40C in western France.