COVID crack team wins award

A NSW Health Pathology team that established COVID-19 testing capabilities which helped rapidly respond to and contain the pandemic have been recognised with an award for innovation in health.

Brad Hazzard

T​he NSW Health Awards reward innovative and sustainable health programs that invest in community wellness.

Winners were announced during an online ceremony on Thursday.

Researchers from the Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research Westmead took out the Keeping People Healthy award for unlocking the puzzle of COVID-19 transmission.

“Thanks to their efforts, we’ve now conducted more than three million COVID-19 tests – an unprecedented effort that has placed NSW among the highest testing rates per capita in the world, and helped us fight this deadly virus,” Health minister Brad Hazzard said.


Professor Dominic Dwyer, the director of public health pathology at NSW Health Pathology, said the achievement was the result of teamwork.

“The key to our success was about forming an incident management team which was about bringing all parts of the organisation’s leadership together to work out what to do to respond,” he said.

Professor Dominic Dwyer

The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in late January, and within days the team had provided early pathogen sequences from patients and uploaded them onto an international database.

They also grew the live virus and mapped its whole genome.

The team has now sequenced the genome of over 840 positive samples and discovered 49 genomic clusters responsible for 91 per cent of cases.

Vitali Sintchenko, Professor of Microbiology at NSW Health Pathology, said the team built the solution on existing infrastructure and translational research.

“In this solution we use microbial genomics and as a result of it we can provide missing links to public health and help them to trace contacts, to trace exposure, and to trace risk factors associated with transmission,” he said.

The service, which received $2.4 million from the NSW Government’s Framework for New Health Technologies and Specialised Services in 2018, has access to cutting-edge whole genome sequencing equipment and team of elite digital bioinformaticians.

“The collaborative culture embodied by researchers, pathologists and clinicians at NSW Health Pathology’s public health pathogen genomics service has been vital in the fight against COVID-19”, NSW Health says.

There were 19 finalists from 14 statewide health entities competing for 10 award categories.

See the full list of winners here.

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