ROME, July 17 (Xinhua) -- Italy on Monday unveiled new measures to protect those suffering from what is expected to be the country's hottest summer on record.
In a circular, the Ministry of Health outlined a series of recommendations to help the country's regional governments manage the impacts of the intense heatwave gripping the country.
Temperatures in parts of Italy have set or approached record highs, with forecasts for the island regions of Sicily and Sardinia, as well as the southern region of Apulia, exceeding 48 degrees Celsius.
On Monday, 17 major Italian cities were on red alert, including Bologna, Florence, Naples, Palermo, Rome and Venice. Several more cities are expected to be on red alert in the next two days, meaning the heat could impact the health of even young and healthy individuals.
The Ministry of Health recommended that state-run hospitals activate a special "heat code" in emergency rooms that will give special fast-track access to care for those admitted with heat stroke or other heat-related health issues.
The circular also recommended the creation of special teams to help relieve the burden on hospital emergency rooms by providing urgent at-home care for the elderly and other vulnerable groups. Other measures included increasing the hours doctors can work when circumstances require it.
The current heatwave is the third to hit Italy this summer. Though the hot weather started later in the year than it did a year ago, it has so far been more intense, with higher temperatures even at night.
Last week, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health published a peer-reviewed study that estimated 18,000 deaths from heat-related causes in Italy last year, more than in any other European country. The estimated death toll last year in Europe as a whole was close to 62,000.
The new recommended measures can remain in effect until Sept. 15, the ministry said, although they could be lifted regionally or nationally if circumstances change.
Healthcare officials have warned people in areas most affected by the intense heat to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, seek out shade while outdoors, stay hydrated and eat lighter meals. ■