Thousands of schools closed as unseasonably early heatwave grips France

Some 4,000 primary schools decided to close their doors after a heatwave of exceptional intensity for the end of June has engulfed most of French regions, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Friday.

“We have told schools’ directors and mayors to decide to close schools when they saw that as the right thing to do. 4,000 schools at this stage have closed their doors or are planning an adapted and urgent reception service,” Philippe said.

“Given the intensity of the heatwave episode, the entire population must pay attention, respect common sense and caution recommendation, and be vigilant both for oneself, family and his neighbors,” he added after he chaired a meeting on unprecedented hot weather.

“Few days ago, some people thought we were doing too much. The intensity of the phenomenon we see since yesterday shows that there was no over-reaction, quite the contrary,” he added.

A high-pressure system bringing hot air up from the Sahara is making temperatures climb to unusually level in France where hotspots of up to 40 degrees Celsius are forecast to hit Paris and most French cities this week.

On Friday afternoon, the highest temperature ever recorded, reached 45.9 degrees Celsius in southern city Gallargues-le-Montueux. The previous record for June stands at 41.5 degrees, registered near Narbonne in southern France in 2003.

The country’s weather service on Friday maintained a red alert for the southern departments of Herault, Gard, Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhone till Saturday afternoon. That marks the first time that part of French regions were placed in red alert since the warning system was brought in 2004.

In 2003, some 15,000 people died from causes attributable to the heat in France.

“There will be less deaths than in 2003 because we did not know what a heatwave was, we were not ready,” health minister Agnes Buzyn said.

“We are much better prepared compared to 2003. Today everyone knows what he has to do; each hospital has its plan,” she added.

“Let’s be very vigilant, avoid any sport effort, avoid unnecessary effort,” the minister recommended.

Following the unseasonably heatwave, authorities have activated a level-three heatwave action plan which provides the establishment of “cool rooms” in municipal buildings, opening pools for late-night swimming and offering access to garden parks by nightfall to help people cool off.