Te Pūnaha Matatini, spearheaded by disease modeller Shaun Hendy, wins Prime Minister's Science Prize for COVID-19 response

Research centre Te Pūnaha Matatini has won the Prime Minister's Science Prize for 2020.

The centre, spearheaded by Auckland University disease modeller Shaun Hendy, was announced the winner in Wellington on Tuesday.

Prof Hendy has become a household name in New Zealand since the emergence of COVID-19 and Te Pūnaha Matatini, which he's the director of, was given the award for its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Prominent microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles was another of the centre's researchers.

"The results of this work were translated for use by the Government policymakers and front-line operators and helped inform the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic," the awards' organisers said in a statement. "Te Pūnaha Matatini modelling was key in helping Government make good decisions about lockdowns, particularly in April and May when the need to relax alert levels arrived, and in August when a tailored lockdown was used in Auckland to eliminate a large outbreak."

Prof Hendy said Te Pūnaha Matatini had been supported by most of the New Zealand public.

"It's been incredible - and if we hadn’t had that trust, it would have all been for nothing."

Another household name, University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker, won the Prime Minister's Science Communication Prize.

Otago University said in a statement Prof Baker had been New Zealand's go-to science professional since the start of the pandemic.

"Prof Baker wrote the book on New Zealand's hugely successful COVID-19 elimination strategy, using multiple forms of science communication to actively promote a move away from a mitigation strategy in early March 2020."

Prof Baker said he was relieved when the Government implemented the COVID-19 elimination strategy.

"I felt absolutely compelled to communicate because at some points I thought New Zealand was heading off a cliff, particularly a year ago when we were at a real crossroads as to whether to follow a flatten the curve approach or to forge a different direction to eliminate the virus."

Other award winners included Christopher Cornwall, a Rutherford Discovery Fellow at Te Herenga Waka at Victoria University of Wellington - who was the Prime Minister's MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize Winner.

Queenstown teacher Sarah Washbrooke won the Prime Minister's Science Teacher Prize, and James Zingel, a former student of Bethlehem College in Tauranga, received the PM's Future Scientist Prize.