Year

2020

Category

Print/Text: Feature Writing Short (under 4000 words)

“The Perfect Virus” both broke news and set out complex science in an accurate but accessible style. Written just as the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting Australia, when the global case tally was only 500,000, it broke new ground by explaining key concepts such as spike proteins, RaTG13 and furin and showing how the virus evolved from harmless to lethal.

The article anticipated all the crucial elements of the pandemic story, long before they became part of the conversation. It showed how climate change and a globalised world created the perfect situation for COVID-19 to emerge, and how complacency meant Australia wasn’t ready, despite years of warning. It also broke news, telling how Australian scientists had long expected a coronavirus to jump to humans, and had been calling for work on broad coronavirus vaccines and anti-virals. Instead, they struggled to get funding to do any work at all.

The feature peeled back how the virus works at an extremely detailed level while ensuring it remained comprehensible and spelled out all the concepts that have since become part of the public discourse. It helped ensure the general community could understand the science and support fact-based policy responses and behaviour change.

Liam Mannix is the national science reporter for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. He started his career in Adelaide at InDaily, where he won two Young Journalist of the Year Awards, and received a cadetship at The Age in 2014. There he moved into science reporting, winning the Eureka Prize for Science Reporting in 2019.

Judges’ comments:

Liam Mannix’s ‘The Perfect Virus’ was part explainer, part investigation. Written at the start of what was rapidly becoming the story of the year, it was a standout science newspaper feature that provided a masterly description of how things worked and predicted what was to come.