Heatwaves and coronavirus: France issues warning

Warmer temperatures during the summer months cannot be relied on to stop the coronavirus say health officials – and in a heatwave care must be taken not to accidentally increase Covid-19 risks by actions we take against the heat.

29 July 2020
Fans should be used with caution as they can spread the virus
By Liv Rowland

Official public health body Santé Publique France is warning that although heat can act against viruses, studies so far show that it will not be enough to keep the coronavirus under control this summer unless people continue to take care.

What is more, it says heatwaves have been increasing since 2015, with red alerts in place last year for the first time since 2004. As for this year, temperatures are expected to be warmer than usual in the Mediterranean, in particular.

Since 2015 severe heatwaves – un canicule in French – have been more frequent and more intense and have been occurring both earlier and later in the season than usual.

This poses particular risks, and means people may need to reconsider some of their usual behavious.

For example:

  • Going indoors into cool public spaces such as cinemas, indoor swimming pools and shopping centres is usually recommended in a heatwave, but may increase risks of transmitting the disease. Santé Publique France recommends that opening hours be modified in a heatwave and that the most ‘vulnerable’ people be prioritised.
  • The body suggests that ‘temporary cool accommodation’ be offered for certain disadvantaged people living in densely-populated city centres without access to cool spaces, vegetation or air-conditioning. This would allow them to cool off for a few hours, it suggests.
  • People are likely to make more use of air conditioning and fans, both of which can help spread the virus through the air. Airconditioning units should ideally be equipped with effective filters and must be kept well-maintained, so as to avoid increasing the level of the virus in a room.
  • As for fans, which can blow the virus through the air and annul the benefits of physical distancing, they are to be discouraged. If you are in a room with a fan, with others and you are unsure if they may have the virus, you may wish to wear a mask, Santé Publique France says. However there is no danger in using one if you are alone in the room.
  • Use of misting systems to blow cool mist may also be dangerous if the mist is blown in an upwards direction.
  • If a member of your family has the virus, they should as much as possible self-isolate in a well-ventilated room, opening windows to allow fresh air in. In a heatwave they can be opened in early mornings and evenings, when temperatures are lower. If it is hard for the person to isolate from the family, it may be preferable to find another cool place they can stay until they are well.

What is the definition of a heatwave?

French weather forecasting agency Météo France says there are three terms for talking about episodes of hot weather, however canicule is the one most often seen in the French media.

Pic de chaleur – a brief episode of 24-48 hours when temperatures go above normal for the time of year

Vague de chaleur – unusually high temperatures are observed during several days

Canicule – an episode of high temperatures, both day and night, over a prolonged period. The definition varies department by department, depending on what is typical. For example in Toulouse, it means that for at least three days and three nights it is never less than 21C at night, and daytime temperatures are more than 36C.

The word comes from the Italian canicula, meaning small dog, and relates to the Dog Star, Sirius, which rises and sets at the same time as the sun during the hottest summer period.

Read more

Hot weather up to 40C set for France this week

Are fans and air-con safe to use?

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