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Government Agencies Launch Rapid Research Response To COVID-19 Threat

The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) and the Ministry of Health have announced a rapid research response to combat the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) threat, and ensure New Zealand is further prepared should the outbreak reach our shores.

The agencies are offering $3 million for a range of research projects to immediately address the current threat as well as prepare for future infectious diseases. Proposals from all fields of health research will be invited as part of the upcoming funding call.

“We aim to improve New Zealand’s responsiveness and readiness for disease outbreak within New Zealand’s borders,” says HRC chief executive Professor Sunny Collings, who attended the World Health Organization’s recent coronavirus global research and innovation forum in Geneva.

“In Geneva there was a lot of discussion about the social impact of events like this both within and between countries, and the need to understand this in the context of a situation that is rapidly evolving and where the science is limited.”

Professor Collings says there is significant opportunity for New Zealand to meaningfully contribute to global research efforts across all fields of health research from laboratory science to social science, as well as ensure findings are relevant and beneficial to New Zealand and New Zealanders. She adds that the research we do now has the potential to strengthen our readiness for another emerging pathogen in the future. “It’s investment in the short-term as well as for longer-term preparedness.”

Health Minister Hon Dr David Clark says it’s clear we need to harness the power of science to better understand and manage COVID-19.

“We are fortunate to not yet have cases in New Zealand, but our science community can help in improving our preparedness. The Health Research Council and the Ministry of Health play an important role in galvanising our own scientific community to identify research priorities, develop projects and accelerate progress.”

Ministry of Health chief science advisor Dr Ian Town says it’s imperative to act swiftly to develop an evidence-base that will inform New Zealand’s management of the current coronavirus threat.

“It’s also important to ensure that we develop an understanding of how different communities respond to any outbreak in New Zealand,” he says.

The research sector was being notified of the funding package today, with full details to be released next week. The COVID-19 funding calls will include two separate funding opportunities, designed to support immediate responses to the current disease threat as well as longer-term responses to this and emerging infectious disease threats.

It’s anticipated some project results will be delivered in the next 3 - 6 months, to directly inform the Ministry of Health and other government agencies involved in New Zealand’s COVID-19 response.

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