Laura Spinney collage

Laura Spinney collage Photo: Supplied

08:10 Laura Spinney: the search for a vaccine and the 1918 flu

Like other residents of Paris, journalist and science writer Laura Spinney is holed up in her home in the French capital: she's only able to venture out if she can produce an official certificate showing an approved reason for her journey. 

She's got a unique perspective on the current scenes of turmoil we're seeing around the world. Her 2017 book Pale Rider covered the devastating impact of the 1918 influenza pandemic, a global health disaster that killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people. 

This week she reflects on the lessons we can take from this public health crisis from more than a century ago as we tackle the threat posed by COVID-19. And she also considers France's response, and the quest for a safe and effective vaccine.


08:30 Dr Chris Smith: 'surface anxiety' and COVID-19 treatment trials

Covid Map

Covid Map Photo: Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Consultant clinical virologist (and Naked Scientist) Dr Chris Smith returns with the latest on what we're discovering about COVID-19 and how it's spreading. 

This week, a team of Imperial College London researchers released an influential study modelling the likely impact of various public health measures designed to slow the pandemic's spread. It seemed to prompt a rapid rethink by the US and UK governments, so where does this leave the 'herd immunity' theory now? 

Also existing antivirals and the antimalarial chloroquine are among the drugs being trialled as potential treatments: so will we be able to cure COVID-19 before we can vaccinate against it? 

And 'surface anxiety': how long can the virus really survive on plastic, paper, metal, cardboard...and on smartphones?

If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)


09:05 Mark Jenkin: director of Bait

Mark Jenkin

Mark Jenkin Photo: Supplied

Dubbed a 'dreamlike masterpiece' and 'one of the defining British films of the decade' in a 5 star review by film critic Mark Kermode, you won't have seen many movies like Bait before. 

A story of rising tensions in a Cornish fishing village, the 89 minute feature is described as a Brexit parable and is shot on 16mm film on clockwork cameras with audio added in post production. 

We speak to its director Mark Jenkin, who recently won a BAFTA for outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer, and a British Independent Film Award.


09:30 Robert Macfarlane: the #CoReadingVirus global reading group

Robert Macfarlane (Twitter)

Robert Macfarlane (Twitter) Photo: Robert Macfarlane (Twitter)

Under the Twitter hashtag #CoReadingVirus, the nature and travel writer Robert Macfarlane is doing his bit to fight back against the boredom and increasing isolation many are experiencing as health authorities around the world introduce tough public health measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

His online reading group has just selected Nan Shepherd's 'slender masterpiece' The Living Mountain as its first book, and booksellers and participants are helping out to get copies to people who can't get their own.

You can join up and find out more about the reading group here.

10:05 Arielle Kilker: Cheer co-director's feelgood hit

It's proving to be an unlikely-sounding global hit.

The six-part Netflix documentary series Cheer follows the US's best college cheer-leading squad, Navarro College from Texas, as they train for the 2019 national championships. Under the exacting gaze of its glamorous coach, Monica Aldama (aka The Queen) viewers follow Cheer Team luminaries like La'Darius Marshall and Gabi Butler through endless practices, bone-crunching injuries, and jaw-dropping tumbling stunts. 

Cheer's developer, producer and co-director Arielle Kilker was meant to be attending the Big Screen Symposium in Auckland in a couple of weeks. The event's now been postponed but the Emmy-nominated film-maker, whose work includes Chef's Table and Last Chance U, joins us from Los Angeles to discuss the competitive cheer-leading scene and how she connected with Aldama and the Navarro College team.


10:35 James Hadfield: NZ phylogeneticist tracking COVID-19's spread

Working from home isn't exactly a new experience for phylogeneticist Dr James Hadfield. Based in Wanaka but employed by Seattle's Bedford Lab, he works on the open source Nextstrain platform: this allows scientists all over the world to share and compare genetic information about SARS CoV-2 and other viruses in one central location, and then track their rate of mutation and their spread in real time. 

The data helps to build up a 'family tree' of a virus revealing the timeline of where transmissions in a particular country started and came from. The response to the COVID-19 outbreak has seen information about hundreds of samples from 33 different countries being logged and shared in the quest to understand and fight the virus better. 

Meanwhile, after the West African Ebola outbreak of (which killed more than 11,000 people in the two and a half years to June 2016), Hadfield also got involved in the ARTIC Network. This designed a 'lab in a suitcase' that can sequence samples from viral outbreaks in the field, and analyse how fast-evolving viruses spread.


11:05 Steven Taylor: the psychology of pandemics

Steve Taylor collage

Steve Taylor collage Photo: Supplied

Professor Steven Taylor is an Australian academic who's been living in Canada since 1988. On the 1st December 2019, just a few weeks before the full scale of the novel coronavirus outbreak became apparent in China, he released his book The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease

A Professor and Clinical Psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, he also has a clinical practice in the city specialising in mood and anxiety disorders. Regarded as an expert on the psychological reactions prompted by pandemics, he's interested in the interplay between individual anxieties and how these can spread to group behaviour. 

Meanwhile, he's just been asked by the Canadian government to conduct research into self-isolation and its psychological impact. As well as toilet paper-seeking behaviour, he's also noticing another social phenomenon: people flouting meeting restrictions to attend pubs and coronavirus parties.


11:35 Michele Bannister: interplanetary passions

Michele Bannister

Michele Bannister Photo: Supplied

Planetary astronomer Michele Bannister has recently arrived home after working in Canada at The University of Victoria in British Columbia, and at Queen's University in Belfast.

A passionate communicator on matters astronomical, her research interests include mapping the outer solar system, interstellar comets, and satellite mega constellations. 

Now back in New Zealand, she wants to help the country launch its own interplanetary space missions, informed by her experiences overseas.