An “unprecedented” heatwave in Japan has killed at least 65 people in one week, government officials said yesterday, with the nation’s weather agency classifying the record-breaking heat as a “natural disaster.”
In the week to Sunday at least 65 people died of heatstroke, while 22,647 people were hospitalized, the Japanese Fire and Disaster Management Agency said in a statement.
Both figures are “the worst-ever for any week during summer” since the agency began recording fatalities resulting from heatstroke in July 2008, an agency spokesman told reporters.
A total of 80 people have died from the heat since the beginning of this month and more than 35,000 have been hospitalized, the agency said.
Among those killed was a six-year-old schoolboy who lost consciousness on his way back from a field trip.
“As a record heat wave continues to blanket the country, urgent measures are required to protect the lives of schoolchildren,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
The Japanese government said it would supply funds to ensure all schools are equipped with air conditioners by next summer.
Less than half of the country’s public schools have air conditioning, and the figure is only slightly higher at public kindergartens.
The government would also consider extending this year’s summer school holiday as the heat wave drags on, Suga said.
On Monday, the city of Kumagaya in Saitama outside Tokyo set a new national heat record, with temperatures hitting 41.1°C.
Temperatures over 40°C were registered for the first time in Tokyo’s metro area, where the government is promoting uchimizu, or the tradition of sprinkling water on the ground, as part of a summer heat awareness campaign.
It was marginally cooler yesterday, but temperatures remained well above normal in most of the country, and little relief is forecast.
“We are observing unprecedented levels of heat in some areas,” Japan Meteorological Agency official Motoaki Takekawa said late on Monday.
The heat wave “is fatal, and we recognize it as a natural disaster,” he told reporters.
The agency said that much of the country will continue baking in temperatures of 35°C or higher until early next month.
Officials have urged people to use air conditioning, drink sufficient water and rest often.
The heatwave follows record rainfall that devastated parts of western and central Japan with floods and landslides that killed more than 220 people. Many people in the affected areas are still living in damaged homes or shelters and working outdoors on repairs, putting them at great risk.
The record-breaking weather has revived concerns about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which is to be held in two years’ time in July and August.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike this week promised that the heat would be given the same priority as measures to counter terrorism.
“It’s just as important, because the purpose is also to protect people’s lives,” she told reporters, comparing Japan’s summer to “living in a sauna.”
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