Thursday, April 18

Cities emptied during the pandemic. The rats took advantage of it to impose their reign


It may not be man’s best friend, but the rat is certainly one of his most faithful and stubborn companions. Where there is humanity, there are rodents willing to feast on your garbage. They were in Rome, they were on the galleons that sailed to the Americas and they are still here today, in the 21st century, in our cities. Even in the most modern. They know it well in New York, where they find themselves with a poisoned legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic: an increase in rodent sightings. The problem is that this also means a health challenge.

At the end of 2021 the New York Times I specified it with data. If between January and November 2019, New Yorkers had called the authorities to alert 15,000 sightings of rats, last year the figure had shot up to 21,000. The number of inspections doubled and by autumn there were 15 cases of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can spread through rodent urine and cause serious liver and kidney damage. Ten and a half cases may not sound like much, but between 2006 and 2016 only 26 had been recorded.

At that time the experts were advancing since, after the population peak registered in October, the rats would be less visible with the drop in temperatures. And they warned, as the New York Times: will re-emerge in large numbers in no time, towards spring.

The perfect Storm

¿Why the change? Rats are not a new problem in New York. They were long before COVID-19. And everything indicates that they will continue running through its streets when Sars-cov-2 is history. In 2017, the city actually spent $32 million on a program to control their numbers. Although there is no unanimity on how the health crisis affected the number of rodents —some even point out that their population has been able to decrease— what is undeniable is that their incidence has grown in the Big Apple. The cause: a “perfect pandemic storm.”

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First, with the closure of the hotel industry, a cut in the Sanitation area and the influence of COVID on the generation of garbage. And then, as the de-escalation began, with the reactivation of construction, which forced the rodents to leave their hiding places; and the popularization of outdoor dining. The change in mentality generated by COVID and the campaign launched by the City Council to promote the “Open Restaurants” They encouraged, according to data from the BBC, around 11,000 new outdoor dining spaces in the city, a boom that some residents directly relate to the increase in rat problems.

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All these factors ended up well seasoned, in turn, with a reorganization of resources, which led the inspectors to stop controlling the rats and focus on other tasks, such as vaccination campaigns and supervision of premises, and a particularly wet summer.

It may be difficult to know if COVID has increased the problem. What is clear is that has made it more obvious and brought to the fore, showing that cities also face another great —and dangerous— health challenge: rats. It happens in New York and beyond the USA.

In Glasgow, Scotland, neighbors and authorities try to stand up to a similar scenario. According to STV News, in 2021 there was an increase in pest control reports and almost 7,000 rat sightings were counted. “Throughout the UK, it appears that during the early part of the lockdown rats moved into more residential areas to forage for food,” explained the City Council earlier this year, acknowledging that the pandemic had “exposed and aggravated” the problems. of the city with waste management.

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Mert Guller E0o18ymqles Unsplash

Daily Star extends the problem beyond Glasgow and highlights an increase in rats also in central London, south-east England or parts of Wales. In general, in 2020, during the worst of the health crisis and the confinements, with the decrease in garbage in the cities and the closure of the hotel industry, a change in the behavior of rodents was observed, with more violent attitudes to look for food and incursions into new areas. In summer in Spain there were still towns that intensified pest control after seeing how they were triggered and the sector’s employer, Adepap, pointed to rodents as the most worrying challenge in mid-2021.

In September Adepap still confirmed a problem with rats in Catalonia closely related to the pandemic and in Madrid it was alerted in November a rise of the black rat in 35 outbreaks in the capital, although the experts did not relate it to the effects of COVID and recalled that the phenomenon repeats itself every several years. The underlying problem remains the same, identical to the one in New York: that animals transmit “serious diseases” to humans.

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The challenge is not minor. just a few weeks ago The Telegraph warned of how a “boom” in the rodent population can put us in contact with new pathogens, especially in less developed countries, from where —as has been proven with COVID-19— they could easily jump to the rest of the globe. According to the WHO, they are already responsible for causing more than 400 million infections in people each year through bites, fleas, urine or aerosols.

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Pictures | Roberto Latxaga (Flickr) and Mert Guller (Unsplash)

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