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Temperatures are expected to hit record highs in Italy this week as much of southern Europe bakes in an intense heatwave that has driven authorities to mobilise medical facilities for the most vulnerable and warn people to stay indoors in the middle of the day.
The heat is raising fears for public health after researchers estimated that about 61,600 people across Europe — including 18,000 in Italy — died of heat-related causes between May and September last year as the region was hit by extreme weather.
Thermometers are rising towards 40C across much of Italy, Spain, parts of France, Greece and the Balkans. Meteorologists predict that in Rome temperatures on Tuesday could hit an all-time high for the city of 43C, while on the island of Sardinia the mercury is projected to touch 48C.
Il Meteo, the Italian weather forecasting agency, said the heatwave had no precedent in terms of its intensity, duration and spread.
“We are on the threshold of a historic heatwave, even in times of climate change,” meteorologist Mattia Gussoni wrote on the Il Meteo website. “It is absolutely not normal to have temperatures of 42C to 44C for so many days and in so many cities.”
As Italian authorities urged citizens to stay indoors in the middle of the day, Greece’s Acropolis closed for several hours on Friday and again on Saturday after a visitor collapsed in the heat.
A wildfire on La Palma, one of the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of north-west Africa, prompted the evacuation of at least 4,000 people as a precaution.
The forecasts of record temperatures in the coming days come as an anticyclone called Charon — after the ferryman of the dead in Greek mythology — sweeps in from north Africa.
As authorities across Europe urged citizens to take precautions, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among those who felt the full brunt of the heat as Israel also reeled under high temperatures.
Netanyahu went to hospital on Saturday with mild dizziness after he said he had spent time out in the sun at the Sea of Galilee without a hat and without enough water — “not a good idea”, he said in a social media video. Doctors concluded he had been suffering from dehydration.
The heatwave in southern Europe comes just months after Italy suffered from extensive flooding of its agriculturally rich Emilia-Romagna region, as unusually heavy rains brought the equivalent of seven months’ precipitation in two weeks. The floods claimed 17 lives and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of crops.
In Italy, travellers’ misery at the intense heat was compounded by a one-day airline strike that disrupted flight services on Saturday, following a strike by rail workers on Thursday.
Coldiretti, Italy’s agricultural lobby, estimated that fruit consumption in the country had risen 20 per cent over the past week as Italians sought to refresh themselves with juicy fresh produce.