New York's hungry rats torment alfresco diners after lockdown famine

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New York City is starting to tentatively emerge from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic but a revival in outdoor restaurant dining is facing a new hazard – a plague of rats.

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Diners are facing a surge in rat activity following a lockdown period where the rodents were cut off from key food sources as businesses including restaurants and grocery stores shut down, forcing rats to battle for snacks and even eat each other.

Since 22 June, New York City restaurants have been allowed to serve people again in outdoor settings, prompting sidewalks and car parking spaces to be dotted with tables and chairs. But the resumption of alfresco dining has led to people having unexpected rodent companions for their meals.

Giacomo Romano, who owns Ciccio, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s Soho, said rats from a nearby park have been harassing diners since the outdoor meals were permitted. “Last night, a customer had a baby rat running on his shoe, and I let you just imagine his reaction,” Romano told NBC.

Romano and other business owners have called on the city to do more to reduce rat populations, as the city hauls itself out of a pandemic crisis that has claimed more than 20,000 lives. New infections and deaths have dropped sharply since April but New York City has postponed plans to allow indoor dining due to concerns over surging Covid-19 cases in other states, such as Florida, Texas and Arizona.

New York City has waged a long and often fruitless war against rats, with the rodents adapting adroitly to the city’s haphazard waste collection and disposal practices. Rats are a common sight in streets and in the subway, where the rodents have proven themselves adept at spiriting away slices of pizza.

The resumption of dining activity is likely to stir a wave of activity among rats following a period of relative famine, meaning interactions with people are set to continue.

“Rats are designed to smell molecules of anything that’s food-related,” Bobby Corrigan, an urban rodentologist, told NBC. “They follow those food molecules like heat-seeking missiles – and eventually you know they end up where those molecules are originating.”


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