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Japan is launching a new warning system as the number of deaths from heat stroke increases

Japan’s Environment Ministry launched a special heat stroke warning system on Wednesday as part of efforts to tackle the rising number of deaths from summer heat in recent years.

When the warning is issued, municipalities will open designated facilities such as libraries and community centers to residents as ‘cooling shelters’. The system is in force until October 23 this year.

If unprecedented, widespread and dangerous heat is expected, the ministry will make an announcement the day before around 2 p.m. and call for the cancellation or postponement of sports and other events that cannot take sufficient measures to prevent heat stroke.

Photo taken in September 2023 shows part of Tottori City Hall in western Japan open to residents as a cooling shelter. (Photo courtesy of Tottori Municipal Government) (Kyodo)

A special warning is issued for each prefecture. In concrete terms, the ministry checks whether the ‘heat stress index’, calculated based on factors such as temperature and humidity, is 35 or higher at all observation points within the prefecture.

According to the ministry, in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, the index reached 34 or higher at all points on a day in August 2020. However, there have been no cases in recent years where the index reached 35 or higher in the country.

The new warning system was created as the annual number of deaths from heat stroke in Japan has exceeded 1,000 in recent years.

The country’s average temperature in the summer of 2023 was the highest since the Japan Meteorological Agency began recording comparable data in 1898.

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