Coronavirus: NZ Govt agencies launch 'rapid research' fund in response to COVID-19

A $3 million "rapid research" fund is being launched in response to the novel coronavirus disease which has killed nearly 2500 people and infected more than 79,000.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) and the Ministry of Health are offering $3 million towards a range of research projects to immediately address the current COVID-19 threat as well as prepare for the future. 

In a press conference on Monday, HRC CEO Professor Sunny Collings said the research initiative aims to improve the country's "responsiveness and readiness" for future outbreaks of infectious diseases within our borders.

Professor Collings, who attended the World Health Organisation's (WHO) coronavirus global research and innovation forum in Geneva, Switzerland, said there was a particular focus on the "social impact" of rapidly-evolving events like COVID-19.

She described research undertaken now as both a short-term and long-term investment. 

WHO is also developing a way to share research across the globe in order to foster collaboration and avoid duplication.

Professor Collings said the $3 million fund "could go towards a broad range of research", including:

  • Helping with vaccine development for COVID-19
  • Analysing how New Zealanders have accessed public health information on offer
  • Looking at different models for health service responses
  • Looking at how New Zealand's responses can be lead in ways that are appropriate for Māori and Pacific communities.

"We are also mindful of our role in supporting our Pacific neighbours... we are looking at a wide range of innovative projects."

Health Minister Dr David Clark said it's evident that the world needs to harness the "power of science" to improve our understanding and management of COVID-19.

"We are fortunate to not yet have cases in New Zealand, but our science community can help in improving our preparedness," Dr Clark said in a statement. 

Ministry of Health chief science advisor Dr Ian Town also acknowledged the importance of ensuring an "understanding of how different communities respond to any outbreak in New Zealand".

The research sector has been notified of the funding package on Monday 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 long-term responses to the virus and other emerging infectious diseases.

According to the press release, some project results are anticipated to be delivered within the next three to six months.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield reiterated there are still no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Zealand. He also noted that even with "a concerted global effort", any vaccine for the virus is at least 12 months away.