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GOVT. WARNING: STAY IN AND WATCH ECLIPSE ON TV; Sun spotters risk being blinded.

ECLIPSE spotters will be warned today to stay at home and watch the solar event of the century on television.

Experts fear that thousands could damage their eyesight by staring straight at the sun when its light is blocked out by the moon for the first time in 72 years. And the Government's chief medical adviser is now telling people to stay inside two weeks today.

At a Department of Health briefing today Professor Liam Donaldson will say: "I wouldn't normally advise people to sit at home and watch television.

"But on August 11 I think that is exactly what they should do."

Ministers will even wheel out former newsreader Jan Leeming, a representative of campaign group Fight For Sight, to hammer home the safety message.

Hundreds of thousands of people are already planning to view the full eclipse in Cornwall.

The skies there will darken for around half an hour during the three-hour eclipse.

The effect will be total and avid sky-watchers have booked out just about everywhere on the south-west coast to see this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

It won't happen again until 2090.

Hospitals in Plymouth and Truro have cancelled all routine operations during the eclipse period so they can handle any emergencies, including eye damage.

The eye hospital in Plymouth is on standby and there are unofficial fears they might have to deal with up to 200 cases.

Prof Donaldson will say: "The only safe way to view the eclipse is to do so indirectly.

"Looking directly at the sun is extremely dangerous as radiation can permanently damage the eye.

"The safest way to view the eclipse outdoors is indirectly with a pinhole projection viewer. But if you want to enjoy the full effect of this phenomenon, use your TV set."

Experts are particularly worried about children who might want to take a peek at the darkened sky.

They are advised to make a Blue Peter-style pinhole camera out of a cereal box or use a solar filter.

Sales of eclipse glasses are also booming - though experts say they might not be 100 per cent safe.

Cornish brothers Steve and Ian Barlow - who are also organising one of the county's eclipse pop festivals - have shipped four million pairs of pounds 1.99 Eclipse Shades to chains such as Tesco, Somerfield and WH Smith.

Royal National Institute for the Blind spokeswoman Wendy Kane reinforced the safety message.

She said: "Looking directly at the sun for as little as five seconds can cause permanent damage to the eye and people have gone blind from looking at the sun for too long.

"We are urging people to be careful throughout the country."
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Author:Dillon, Jo
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 28, 1999
Words:441
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