Boris Johnson accused of ‘checking out’ as UK swelters in searing heat

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The Guardian

Airport runways have been closed and 999 calls have surged as Britain endured some of the hottest temperatures on record, with Boris Johnson accused of being “checked out” after he missed emergency Cobra meetings about the searing heat.

With the Met Office forecasting temperatures to rise again on Tuesday to a record-breaking 41C (106F) in southern and central England, the prime minister attended Farnborough airshow, where he gave a whimsical speech about completing a loop the loop and a barrel roll in a Typhoon fighter jet.

Wales was the first to break records by recording a provisional new high of 35.3C at Gogerddan near Aberystwyth, which was surpassed a couple of hours later when 37.1C was reached in Hawarden, Flintshire.

By 4pm, England had logged a high of 38.1C at Santon Downham in Suffolk, just shy of the 38.7C record set in Cambridge in 2019. Scotland is poised to experience its hottest day in history on Tuesday.

Operations and medical appointments were cancelled because of the heat, NHS leaders said, and a fourth person died after getting into difficulty in the water. The body of a 16-year-old boy was recovered from Bray lake in Berkshire shortly before 11.45am, when the temperature was already 31C.

A 13-year-old who died on Sunday in a river near Ovingham, Northumberland, was named on Monday afternoon as Robert Hattersley.

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.

Luton airport temporarily closed to flights after a runway defect was discovered.

Passengers on an easyJet flight from Catania were told by the captain that they were unable to land at Luton because parts of the runway had effectively melted.

The runway at RAF Brize Norton was also closed. An RAF spokesperson said: “During this period of extreme temperature, flight safety remains our top priority, so aircraft are using alternative airfields.”

On the roads, car breakdowns were up by 10% as a result of the heat, the RAC said.

Miriam Deakin, the interim deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said some trusts scaled back planned surgeries because operating theatres were too hot.

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned the combination of “outdated” health premises and increasingly common record temperatures, driving up demand for care, may mean the summer is harder for the NHS to cope with than winter.

“Our buildings and estate are ill-equipped to deal with these kinds of temperatures and a lack of capital investment in the NHS over the last ten years means we have very little resilience left to deal with crisis situations like this,” he said.

Dozens of schools closed and many others cut their days short, with many staying shut until Wednesday when temperatures are expected to drop to the mid-twenties.

Care home operators said staff were working hard to ensure their vulnerable residents stay cool and hydrated. NHS hospital kitchens made ice lollies for patients, while zoos in London and Bristol did the same for primates and other animals.

But with Johnson missing Cobra meetings while attending the Farnborough airshow on Monday and throwing a party at Chequers at the weekend, the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said voters are “seeing a prime minister who’s basically checked out, so he’s not really doing anything”.

The Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse, who chaired the latest Cobra meeting said it was “very unfair criticism” and that the prime minister “appoints secretaries of state to do this kind of work and that’s what I’ve been doing”.

He said the criticism was “a political attempt to create some air of panic” about the heatwave.

The heat drove millions to work from home, with road congestion down in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, according to data from satnav company TomTom.

Rail passenger numbers fell by 20%, Network Rail said, after heavily reduced timetables and speed restrictions were put in place to prevent rails from buckling. The east coast mainline from York and Leeds to London will be closed altogether on Tuesday.

Water use surged, particularly in the south, where Southern Water said demand was at close to record levels. The industry body Water UK urged people to “carefully consider” their use in order to reduce the risk of shortages later this summer.

Downing Street gave an upbeat assessment of the country’s resilience, with a spokesperson saying: “There’s no indication of mass closures of schools, for example, the NHS is coping well … and Network Rail and others have already taken some mitigations with some reduced service and speed limits in place.”

Asked about deaths from the extreme heat, he said there are “none that have been reported to us centrally at this point”.

Several thousand excess deaths are expected to result from the heatwave but numbers are unlikely to be immediately available.

Meanwhile, the Met Office predicted temperatures such as these will be seen anywhere between one in 15 and one in three years by the end of this century, depending on the “emissions pathways” we take in the coming decades.

After the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, said on Sunday that people should be resilient enough to “enjoy the sunshine,” the Met Office chief executive, Penelope Endersby, 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.”

July 18, 2022 at 11:54PM Robert Booth, Gwyn Topham, Andrew Gregory and Peter Walker

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