Hong Kong (CNN) – Millions of people in China are bracing themselves for even hotter weather this weekend as more than a dozen cities issued red alerts — the highest possible heat warning.
According to China’s Meteorological Administration, temperatures in 19 cities in the eastern provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian are expected to surpass 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the next 24 hours.
Another 208 cities and counties across China are under orange alert, the second highest heat warning that indicates temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
That warning covers parts of southern and eastern China, including Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, and some of the provinces of Anhui and Henan.
The heatwave coincides with the “Great Heat” on Saturday, traditionally the hottest day of the year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
China has been battling persistent high temperatures since June, with an average temperature of 22.1 degrees Celsius (almost 72 degrees Fahrenheit), the highest since 1961, according to China’s National Climate Center.
In recent weeks, at least 71 national weather stations across China have logged record temperatures. Three cities in the central province of Hebei and one in the southwest province of Yunnan saw temperatures reach 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit).
China’s Central Meteorological Observatory has advised people to avoid outdoor activities, shorten work hours and take protective measures against heatstroke during hot periods.
Heat wave-related mortality in China has increased dramatically since 1990, reaching 26,800 deaths in 2019, according to a Lancet study published in 2020.
Earlier this year, the Chinese government released a new policy document to improve its response to climate change, which it said was not only creating long-term challenges but also made the country more vulnerable to “sudden and extreme” events such as heat waves, drought and flooding.
“Climate change has already brought serious adverse impacts to China’s natural ecological system, and has continued to spread and penetrate into economy and society,” the government said in its national climate change adaptation strategy.
It vowed to make China a “climate-resilient society” by 2035, by building a nationwide system to monitor and assess climate risks, and by boosting early warning capabilities.