British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday was accused of not taking an impending heat emergency seriously after he missed a crisis meeting of his cabinet.
Johnson, who is due to step down in September, took a weekend break at his Chequers country retreat, west of London, and prepared to host a farewell party.
Forecasters have warned that temperatures in parts of the UK could surpass 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time next week. Elsewhere in Europe, wildfires and droughts have forced the evacuation of thousands of people.
Red alert for risk to life
Ahead of the weekend, the UK Met Office issued its first-ever "red" extreme heat alert, warning of a risk to life.
On Sunday, Met Office meteorologist Steven Keates told The Sunday Telegraph that the public should avoid strenuous exercise and unnecessary travel in the next few days.
Several workplaces, stores and schools announced plans to close or operate reduced hours on Monday and Tuesday.
Johnson's absence to host a social event raised eyebrows as he was forced to resign partly because of other parties held during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Boris parties while Britain 'boils'
“Boris Johnson has gone missing in action again … The public will have no confidence in this zombie Conservative government responding swiftly and decisively to this national emergency as this disgraced Prime Minister prepares to party while Britain boils,” the opposition Labour Party's deputy leader Angela Rayner said.
Saturday's emergency meeting was chaired by MP and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Kit Malthouse.
Malthouse warned that transport services would face "significant disruption" during the heatwave and said the public should work from home if possible.
British media outlets noted that past heatwaves have led to a steep rise in heat-related illnesses and death.
Minister accused of sending wrong message
Meanwhile, UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab on Sunday was criticized for downplaying the impact of the record temperature when he said, "We ought to enjoy the sunshine and … be resilient enough through some of the pressures it will place."
Speaking after Raab on Sky, College of Paramedics chief executive Tracy Nicholls said: "This isn't like a lovely hot day where we can put a bit of sunscreen on, go out and enjoy a swim and a meal outside.
"This is serious heat that could actually, ultimately, end in people's deaths because it is so ferocious," she said. "We're just not set up for that sort of heat in this country."
Britain's highest recorded temperature is currently 38.7C set in Cambridge, eastern England, on July 25, 2019. But that looks set to be surpassed in the Met Office's projections for this week.