Rat emergency in Rome

Health minister orders police to combat Rome's rat problem.

Italy's health minister Beatrice Lorenzin has ordered a special health protection unit of the carabinieri to "clean up Rome" as the city's rat problem escalates.

The Nuclei Antisofisticazioni e Sanità dell'Arma (NAS) have been tasked with ensuring that hygiene regulations apply in the capital's kindergartens, schools and hospitals – particularly those in close proximity to the city's parks, many of which are in an increasingly dirty and over-grown state.

NAS officers will also focus on improving hygiene levels in tourist areas with a heavy concentration of restaurants, especially in Trastevere where in recent days residents have reported rubbish mounting up on streets in the neighbourhood.

Lorenzin is making a clear political point too - according to Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera – that while Rome's mayor Virginia Raggi of the Movimento 5 Stelle may be "willing to tolerate" the capital's rat problem, the health minister is not.

In April Lorenzin wrote an open letter to Raggi denouncing the fact that a three-year-old boy was bitten by a rat while playing in a public playground in Villa Gordiani in the city's Prenestino district.

The health minister's letter was followed up with much-quoted comments by Raggi's environment councillor Pinuccia Montanari who claimed she had never seen a rat in Rome.