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Editorial: Japan needs wider measures to protect people's lives amid heat wave

Japan has been sweltering in a heat wave recently, with temperatures soaring to 35 degrees Celsius or higher in several areas. The Japan Meteorological Agency expects the hot weather to continue in extensive areas nationwide, and people need to remain on their guard against heatstroke.

With the exception of the Hokuriku region on the Sea of Japan coast, the rainy season finished later than normal across Japan this year, and so there was an extended period of cooler weather with fewer hours of sunshine, particularly in the Kanto-Koshin region including Tokyo.

The Mainichi Shimbun compiled data on heatstroke for July 31, when the rainy season had finished throughout Japan, excluding the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, which does not have a rainy season. Data for that day alone showed that at least 830 people in Tokyo and 17 other prefectures in eastern Japan came down with symptoms of heatstroke and were taken to hospital or received other such treatment.

Heatstroke occurs when the body's ability to adjust its temperature stops functioning properly as a result of the heat. People particularly need to be on guard when the temperature rises quickly before their bodies are used to it. This sudden rise in daily temperatures is apparently what caused many people to fall ill this year.

If a person starts having convulsions or feeling dizzy due to the heat, they should move to a cool place immediately. It is important to control the room temperature with an air conditioner, and for the person to protect themselves by replenishing their fluids in small, regular amounts, even if they aren't thirsty.

It is said the global warming is pushing up the average yearly temperature in Japan at a pace of 1.21 degrees Celsius every century. Hearing of "record" high temperatures is now common, and that trend probably won't change. It is important for each person to adopt preventive measures as part of their lifestyle.

Efforts to protect people from the heat in regional communities, workplaces and schools are also important.

Elderly people living alone face a high risk of succumbing to heatstroke, as they tend not to feel heat and thirst as easily as young people, and they can develop serious symptoms of heatstroke before they are fully aware of it. Neighbors need to check on each other on hot days, adopting a similar system to that employed during times of disaster.

Companies that allow people to work from home on extremely hot days have started to appear in Japan. It would be good if teleworking, in which people are not bound to certain times or locations, became more widespread as a measure against heatstroke.

After an incident in July last year in which a boy at an elementary school in the central Japan prefecture of Aichi died from heatstroke, elementary and junior high schools across the country have started to install air conditioners in classrooms. Some local bodies that were unable to install them in time for this summer took measures such as starting school summer vacation earlier. We hope to see action in the future that places top priority on children's health.

Over the four months from June last year, a total of 1,518 people across Japan died of heatstroke. People need to put their heads together more to reduce this large number of deaths, which is comparable to that of a major disaster.

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