20230802 south korea
A worker pours cold water in a plastic bottle on his colleague in order to cool off him at a construction site in Incheon, South Korea. Image Credit: Reuters

Seoul: South Korea raised the hot weather warning to its highest level for the first time in four years, as parts of the country roasted in temperatures over 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit), the interior and safety ministry said on Wednesday.

The scorching heat is estimated to have killed at least 22 people across the country as of Tuesday, more than triple the record of seven during the same period last year, an official at the National Fire Agency said.

The official temperature measured in the city of Yeoju, south of Seoul, hit 38.4C on Tuesday, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said.

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South Korea raised the heat warning level in its four-tier system to the highest as of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the first time since 2019.

The highest "serious" warning is issued when the apparent temperature is expected at 35C or higher in at least 40% of the country's 180 regions for three or more days. It can also be issued when the apparent temperature is likely to be 38C or higher for three or more days in 10% of the country.

"This weather gets me really sweaty just by walking around," Cho Ye-jin, a 21-year-old college student said, holding a portable fan in one hand in the tourist district of Myeongdong, Seoul. "You can't bear this weather without a fan." In the southern county of Buan where the 25th World Scout Jamboree is taking place, some 400 participants have experienced heat-related symptoms on its opening day on Tuesday, officials said.

"Most of them were experiencing mild symptoms, such as temporary headache, and there is no one being treated as a serious patient," its organising committee said in a statement.

The committee said it had six helicopters and 70 hospital beds ready to transfer patients in case of emergency.

Some 43,000 people from across the globe are planned to take part in the camping festival which will run through Aug. 12, the committee said.

The government forecasts high temperatures to persist with oppressive humidity for the coming days, with the apparent temperature likely to hover around 35C in most parts of the country.

President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday urged officials to step up measures to prevent further casualties, especially for people working outdoors, the elderly citizens and those living in makeshift houses without adequate air conditioning systems.

Near Yoon's office on Wednesday, construction workers held a press conference and called for concrete countermeasures.

"Under the current conditions, construction workers' heat deaths are 'expected deaths,'" the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said in a statement.

The growing frequency and intensity of severe weather is symptomatic of global, human-driven climate change, experts in the field say, with heatwaves in much of the world expected to persist through August.

North Korea is also battling the unrelenting heatwave with highest daily temperatures forecast to hover around 35C to 37C by Thursday, state media reported.