When the

going got tough…

As COVID-19 shut borders and closed down countries—and campuses—across the globe, the University’s researchers had to rapidly shift focus.

Throughout 2020, they have made outstanding contributions to the pandemic response, ranging from pure science to expert political and legal analysis, surveys on the impact of lockdown, artistic performances, and timely social commentaries.

The University is playing a lead role in the country’s vaccine research and evaluation, working alongside the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and the University of Otago as part of the Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand, which has received $10 million in government funding. Dr Lisa Connor and Dr Davide Comoletti from the School of Biological Sciences and Dr Gerd Mittelstädt from the Ferrier Research Institute each lead different strands of the research.

“The opportunity to work on generating a vaccine for a global pandemic is something I have been training for during my entire professional career,” Lisa says. “This is a chance to put my skills to use—and I am so glad I can contribute.”

Responding to the heavy demand for personal protective equipment, the University turned its design expertise and facilities to the task of making face shields for medical centres, using a laser cutting method that proved more hygienic than 3D printing.

Strong connections to Kaitaia-based general practitioner Dr Lance O’Sullivan and iwi organisations ensured the shields went to medical centres that really needed them. Dr Edgar Rodriguez from the School of Design Innovation, who led the project, says it was a community effort, from University management enabling the production to occur on-site during alert level four, to suppliers, the school administration team, and neighbours all pitching in.

Notice how quiet it was during lockdown? Professor Martha Savage from the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences was part of an international study that showed there was also a significant measurable reduction in seismic noise.

Things were less quiet in our bubbles—the term the New Zealand Government has used to describe the small groups of people clustered during lockdown—with a survey by the University’s Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families and Children and Institute for Governance and Policy Studies highlighting the reliance on schools and early childhood education to enable paid work to be sustained.

Food became a focus for many during lockdown and Dr Lisa Te Morenga from the Faculty of Health is part of an international study to determine whether it has had a lasting influence on our cooking and eating habits.

Many academics contributed analysis and commentary on a wide range of topics related to the pandemic, including the future for the tourism industry, the education and mental health consequences, how to manage the economic fallout, and philosophical perspectives on COVID times.

Creativity also flourished—Professor David O’Donnell and co-director and alumna Cassandra Tse worked with Theatre programme students to produce a digital production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, New Zealand School of Music composition lecturer Dr Thomas Voyce ran movie nights from his bubble, and School of Design Innovation senior lecturer Dylan Horrocks made a series of video interviews, Quarantoon, with cartoonists and illustrators to get their take on lockdown.

“I talk with friends around the world all the time online,” says Dylan, “and everyone has been profoundly affected by this pandemic. We’re living through history and—to be blunt—it kind of sucks.”


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