LONDON — Britain was bracing Sunday for what could be its hottest day ever recorded. Many schools in England planned to close, hospitals were canceling nonessential procedures and retirement homes were making preparations to keep their vulnerable residents safe.
Britain has declared a national emergency and issued its first-ever “red” warning for exceptional heat, meaning there is a potential risk to life with temperatures that could soar to 41 degrees Celsius (about 106 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday and Tuesday. That would be the highest temperature ever recorded in Britain. The current record is 101.6 degrees, set in 2019, according to the Met Office, Britain’s national weather service.
Blistering temperatures are becoming more common not just in Britain, but across the world, and climate scientists have little doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is a significant driver of that change.
To make matters worse, most buildings in Britain are designed to retain heat, because cold temperatures have, in the past, been a bigger concern. Also, few homes have air-conditioning, making people particularly vulnerable when temperatures soar.
“We’re asking people to keep an eye out for their neighbors and those who may be vulnerable,” Britain’s health secretary, Steve Barclay, said on Saturday, adding that extra measures had been added for ambulance services, including additional working hours.
The government held an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss preparations for the heat, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is stepping down, reportedly did not attend, opting instead to hold a farewell party, according to local news media reports.
Transportation services will also be affected on Monday and Tuesday, with Transport for London, the city’s transit authority, advising people to make only essential trips.
Schools have not been told to close, though some will. Parents’ reactions were mixed.
“Some of the windows don’t open, there’s no fans, no air-conditioning,” said Guy Arnel, 44, of Ascot, a town west of London, whose 18-year-old daughter’s school opted to offer classes remotely early in the week. “It is probably better off not being in a heat box like that.”
Some parents planned to have their children stay home, even if schools were open.
“We’ll be keeping our children at home so that I can monitor what they eat, what they drink and how they are in themselves,” said Zoe, 46, who has 8-year-old twins, one of whom has autism and reduced kidney function, rendering him particularly vulnerable to the heat.
“In this situation, I’m very happy to play the ‘mother knows best’ card,” said Zoe, who lives in Cheshire in northwest England and asked to be identified by her first name over privacy concerns.
Some hospitals said they would cancel nonemergency operations, citing the risk to both patients and staff members.
“We have taken the decision to stand down routine outpatient appointments and surgery on Monday and Tuesday because many of the patients traveling to these appointments are frail and at increased risk, and due to the unpredictable nature of very high temperatures on demand for emergency care,” Joe Harrison, chief executive of Milton Keynes University Hospital, said on Twitter.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities were also preparing for the weather.
At Forrester Court Care Home in London, which provides care to vulnerable patients, including those with dementia, the unit’s team leader, Jessie Lau, said staff members were making sure to keep residents hydrated and were also handing out ice cream. Like most buildings in Britain, the home lacks air-conditioning, and Mrs. Lau said the staff had asked for extra fans to offset the heat.
James Clear, the hotel services manager at Care UK, which operates more than 150 care homes across Britain, including Forrester Court, emphasized the broad effort to keep patients hydrated, saying in a statement, “From a maintenance person sitting down with a resident for a midmorning cuppa to a carer encouraging people to have a piece of fruit as a snack, every interaction helps.”
Retailers have been reporting unusual demand for fans and air-conditioning units — items traditionally thought of as unnecessary because of the country’s normally mild climate.
“As the U.K. heat wave continues, the nation is going to lengthy measures to keep cool from the rising temperatures, splashing out on all sorts of products in the last few weeks, including fans,” said Lara Brittain, an appliances expert at Currys, the largest electronics retailer in Britain.
Ms. Brittain said Currys had seen a 300 percent increase in the sale of fans in the past three days compared with the previous week.
A spokeswoman for John Lewis, one of Britain’s largest department stores, said that sales of fans were up more than 250 percent in the past week compared with last year and that air-conditioner sales were up more than 525 percent over last year.
Some people seemed more set on enjoying, rather than enduring, the heat.
A spokesman for B & Q, the largest D.I.Y. retailer in Britain, said that hot tub sales had nearly tripled in the past week compared with normal levels and that sales of charcoal for grilling had nearly doubled.
Britain’s RAC, which provides roadside assistance and other automotive services, said it was expecting a major surge in breakdowns as cars overheat and echoed the government’s calls to avoid unnecessary travel.
Travel by train was being discouraged, too. Network Rail, which operates most of Britain’s railway network, has advised people not to use trains because of the risks of heat buckling the tracks and track-side fires.
Many people said they were planning to stay close to home.
“I’m 100 percent working from home this Monday because of the heat,” said Bertie Maher, 25, who works for an e-commerce company in London. “I can have a cold shower during the day and can catch a bit of sun for 20 minutes during my lunch break.”