Investment announced into new project to prepare for post-COVID respiratory disease outbreaks

There are concerns about more surges in respiratory diseases post-COVID-19.

We've already seen a spike in RSV, which has left hospitals overflowing with sick children. Now $10 million is being invested in a project led by the University of Auckland to prepare for post-COVID outbreaks.

Behind the scenes at ESR, they've been doing the detective work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now they're going to be looking at the knock-on effect for other respiratory illnesses.

"When we implemented lockdown and border control, it changed the behaviour of human interaction," says ESR virologist Dr Sue Huang. "As a result it changed the virus transmission pattern in our community."

Thousands of swabs from patients will be analysed for the SHIVERS-5 project revealing who the viruses are affecting and how they're spreading.

Immunisation Advisory Centre director Prof Nikki Turner says the work is crucial given the impact of RSV.

"It particularly affected young people, vulnerable people, particularly affects people in poor housing and crowded situations, Māori, Pasifika people. It's very concerning this year."

Shaun Hendy has been at the forefront of modelling to control the COVID-19 virus. Now, he's looking at other diseases which have snuck back through our border.

"The modelling can help us try and understand how much larger that spike will be and also perhaps help us understand how we can control that spike and maybe prevent an uncontrolled outbreak of RSV."

The two-year project will include the impact of border closures and lockdowns on respiratory virus transmission and how a year of minimal exposure affected disease in children.

And not just RSV, but influenza too, as border restrictions begin to ease.

"The pattern of viruses coming in and out of New Zealand will look different, we're not entirely sure what form that will take," says Prof Turner.

But scientists hope to be ahead of the curve.