National Plan Updated: Focus on Heat as a Health Threat

A heat warning is in place for half of Austria on Friday: Geosphere Austria (formerly ZAMG) rates the danger as “orange”, the third of four levels. Especially in the eastern part of the country it will sweat up to a maximum of 35 degrees. This has consequences: for health, and for long-term health and social order, Rauch says. On Wednesday, he presented a heat protection program together with Health Austria (GOEG) and the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) at a “climate oasis” run by Caritas in Vienna.

Europe is warming faster than other continents, Rauch said. Heat is already a burden for healthy people, but it can pose a real danger, especially for vulnerable groups such as infants, young children, the elderly and the sick. Awareness should be created for this. The purpose of the revised heat protection plan is to create awareness and make the healthcare system resilient to anticipated future heat events. In the event of extremely high temperatures, the plan sets out measures to be taken at federal level in cooperation with the federal states and Geosphere Austria.

Instructions and best practices

The project provides recommendations for actions for federal states and social and health agencies depending on the level of alertness and shows best practice examples, for example how to set up a network of “warm friends”.

For example, those who live in nursing homes and care facilities or are cared for by mobile services need special attention. Examples of facilities’ own thermal protection plans are also included.

Exchanges with countries, social and health organizations will also be intensified. The plan is to provide information and training to facilities’ thermal representatives and the annual congress. The plan also calls for heat to be increasingly taken into account in urban development and spatial planning.

The role of states is central

The federal states are responsible for implementing the measures, and each has its own heat protection programs that take regional characteristics into account. The federal government coordinates exchanges between states and experts and is responsible for actions in extreme heat from 40-degree perceived temperatures and prolonged, extreme heat waves.

Weather extremes and the climate crisis

While individual extreme events cannot be directly traced to a specific cause, one thing is clear according to the current IPCC report: Climate change is making extreme weather events like floods, storms and heat waves more frequent and more intense. This means rainfall and storms are getting stronger, heat waves are getting hotter and droughts are getting drier.

Its primary purpose is to bring together state crisis and disaster protection management and coordinate emergency response efforts by all stakeholders (eg, emergency agencies, federal, state, and local authorities). The health ministry wants to intensify information for the public and put out advertisements on how to behave during heat waves, Rach said.

Heat is also a social issue when people can’t afford air conditioning or access to a swimming pool, Rauch said. Therefore, they want to help create more places that offer free cooling, such as the 27 “climate oases” in Vienna and Lower Austria and the Red Cross’s “cooling centers”.

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High excess mortality

Monitoring is also important as mentioned in the press conference. Heat-related mortality is difficult to measure because heat rarely causes direct deaths. It primarily affects pre-existing diseases.

The AGES Thermal Mortality Monitor quantifies the relationship between temperature and excess mortality. Estimates show: In recent years, there has been a significant increase in mortality of up to 500 people per year. The number of hospital stays also increased by a quarter during the hottest summer.

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