LONDON • The rat was “quite big,” said Pied Piper Colin Sims with understatement, holding up an eight-inch specimen without counting its tail.

It’s boom time for companies like its CHS Pest Control, where the number of calls to handle rats has increased by 75 percent since the UK first entered coronavirus lockdown a year ago.

Infestation in London and other cities is increasing as rodents move to empty offices and seek new sources of food as many restaurants are closed.

“It’s a filthy animal so it was in the sewer,” said Mr Sims as he held the rat up by the tail after it died in a trap he set in a house in southwest London.

Finding the way for this rat meant gnawing a large hole through a plastic trash pipe that led down from a downstairs toilet, judging by signs of biting in the area.

The UK rat population rose by a quarter to an estimated 150 million last year, according to website. Mr Sims had worked seven days a week since the lockdown began in March last year, registering up to 12 jobs a day.

The UK has been in the third phase since the outbreak of the pandemic, which has created ideal breeding conditions for rats.

“With Lockdown, you will have buildings that are quiet and uninhabited so it will be dark, it will be safe for them to breed undetected,” said Rentokil manager Paul Blackhurst.

With no nightly scraps of food to be thrown away on the back of buildings or on now-deserted downtown streets, the nocturnal pests also dare to dare more.

In broad daylight, an increasing number of rats were spotted strolling through residential areas where residents’ garbage cans are more quickly blocked.

In the rats’ starved and never-ending search for food, nothing resists their sharp incisors, causing damage to wood, bricks and even electrical cables and increasing the risk of fire and flooding.

Pied Piper Colin Sims caught in a trap with a rodent. Amid a UK pandemic, infestation has increased in cities as rats breed undetected in empty office buildings, searching for new sources of food, with many restaurants closed. PHOTO: AGENCY FRANCE PRESS

With so many more people working from home, residents at Beaver Pest Control’s David Lodge were aware of the problem in their neighborhood, which was exacerbated during the winter months when rodents took refuge from the cold indoors.

Others are in shock when they return to dormant premises and business owners find the messy remains of marauding rodent night owls.

Mr Sims said the bug business was showing no signs of subsiding.

After throwing his plump, dead rat in a trash bag to be burned, he drove his pickup truck to the next job in an infested commercial backyard.