As the mercury rises to levels unseen in decades and amid the nationwide power-saving drive, health experts are warning the public of the risk of heatstroke if they refrain too much from using air conditioning.
The elderly, people with illnesses and small children are particularly susceptible, the experts said, adding that while raising the temperature setting in refrigerators saves power, it increases the risk of food poisoning.
While the government has asked the public to set air conditioners to 28 degrees, “it would make the actual temperature inside reach 30, too high for elderly people who are susceptible to dehydration,” said Ritsuko Momose, chief of staff at a home for the elderly in Suginami Ward, Tokyo.
Momose sets the temperature at the Nanyo-en nursing home, which takes care of around 250 elderly people including some who are bedridden, at around 26 degrees.
Bracing for possible power outages, the facility has installed an emergency power generator and bought medical pillows filled with coolant gel. It also plans to apply heat-insulation coating materials to windows to make its air conditioners more efficient.
“Some of the measures run counter to the power-saving drive, but the lives of the elderly are at stake,” Momose said.
The government said around 6,880 people suffering heatstroke were taken to hospitals by ambulance in June, more than three times the number a year earlier. Fifteen of them died after reaching a hospital. People aged 65 or older accounted for 52 percent of the total.
A heat wave in late June sent temperatures in various parts of Japan to their highest levels since 1961. Central Tokyo registered 35.1 degrees on June 29, only the third time the temperature has exceeded 35 in the month since the Meteorological Agency began compiling comparable records in 1875.
Health ministry experts say that when temperatures exceed 30, the number of deaths from heatstroke tends to rise.
The Meteorological Agency predicts temperatures in the Kanto-Koshinetsu region, including the Tokyo metropolitan area, will be higher than average in the three-month period from July, and severe late-summer heat will persist to September.
Yasufumi Miyake, an assistant professor at Showa University, said that “air conditioning is the best help for people with illnesses and for elderly people to avoid heatstroke. People should not feel bad about using air conditioners when they feel the heat.”
Elderly people don’t always notice changes to their physical condition due to heat and they could be at risk of heatstroke, an official at the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.
“We are worried about households of elderly people lacking younger people’s care,” the official said.
Starting Thursday, the Meteorological Agency plans to issue a “heat warning” the day before temperatures could rise above 35, to remind people to take energy-saving steps “within limits they can tolerate.”
Rainy season over
This year’s rainy season appears to be over in northern Kyushu, Kanto-Koshin and Hokuriku regions, eight days earlier than last year, the Meteorological Agency said Saturday.
If the end of the season is confirmed, it will be 15 days earlier than the average for the Hokuriku region, 12 days earlier for the Kanto-Koshin region, including Tokyo, and 10 days earlier for the northern Kyushu region, the agency said.
The end of the rainy spell is expected to clear the way for blue skies in these regions over the next week, although it may be cloudy at times, the agency added.
The agency warned of intense heat for the Kanto-Koshin region in the coming week and called for precautions for possible heatstroke.