Residents of one Merseyside borough fear the coronavirus lockdown has left rats free to roam their streets.

The lockdown has seen Knowsley Council suspend pest control visits and delay plans to lay rat traps and poison in the borough’s sewers, a practice known as sewer baiting, which is intended to tackle the problem.

Without pest control or sewer baiting, residents have said rats are “free to roam the quiet streets unhindered”, posing a risk to public health.

John Carine, a resident of Page Moss and local Green Party campaigner, said: “This problem has been going on for years and is not likely to get any better with the council suspending pest control and halting the sewer baiting programme.

“There is a clear and present danger to health if pests are left uncontrolled.”

Earlier this year, Knowsley Council reached a deal with United Utilities to start baiting the sewers again after a period of several years when it was the only local authority in Merseyside not to do so.

The move followed public pressure and complaints from residents who compared parts of Huyton to a “Victorian slum” due to the persistent rat problem.

Sewer baiting work was due to start this month, but in an email to residents councillors said the plans had to be postponed until social distancing rules were relaxed.

The email said: “Council officers are continuing to discuss the arrangements with United Utilities and will look to implement the planned sewer baiting programme as soon as is practically possible.”

At the same time, council pest control services have been suspended until further notice, leaving residents concerned that the borough’s rat problem could get even worse.

Mr Carine said the lockdown also meant an increase in household waste and overflowing bins that would provide more encouragement for rodents.

He said: “An increase of rats causes increased risk of potential infection.

“We don’t need that at any time, but especially when the health service is under so much pressure.”

Knowsley Council was approached for comment for this story.