The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has warned that heatwave-like conditions will prevail over northern India as states like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, north Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh are unlikely to get any relief from the sweltering heat in the next two days.
The heatwave prediction comes as India battles a second wave of the pandemic, and experts say it could have far-reaching effects on Covid-19 patients or those highly susceptible to the disease.
And the usual effective public health interventions to prevent heat-related illnesses and mortality during heatwaves — like going to leaving home for cooler places, shopping malls, gardens — might be impossible due to Covid-19 related restrictions in place in several places for containing the transmission of COVID-19.
While there is no evidence to link the scorching heat to the transmission of Covid-19, health experts are worried that they may exacerbate and introduce additional challenges for individuals, health workers, health facilities, and communities in the management of Covid-19.
The poor will take the heat
A study published by The Lancet in July last year stated that severe heatwaves in Indian cities could endanger the lives and health of people living in poorly ventilated, hot, crowded homes, low-income urban slum dwellers, people with poor options for self-quarantine.
Furthermore, it said that most of those vulnerable to Covid-19 are also vulnerable to extreme heat, including older people, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, or diabetes), homeless people, and outdoor workers.
Hundreds have died in Canada and the northern US reportedly as a historic heatwave that has baked the Pacific Northwest and shattered all-time temperature records in usually temperate cities.
The heatwave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense. Seattle, Portland, and many other cities broke all-time heat records, with temperatures in some places reaching above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 Celsius).
The government machinery needs to ensure that cities are able to effectively deal with the adverse effects of severe heatwaves. The National Disaster Management Authority needs to have the local city administrations draw up updated heat action plans.
The personal protective equipment (PPE) used by frontline workers makes it more difficult to lose body heat. To optimise endurance and cognitive performance while wearing them, workers should try to lower their body’s core temperature before beginning work. Additionally, cooling down, hydrating, and taking frequent breaks between shifts should be advised, because heat stress can increase with consecutive days of exposure.
Awareness of certain dos and don’ts to be followed during a heatwave needs to be created among the vulnerable groups, especially those in remote areas with limited access to health care.