On Christmas morning, Siouxsie Wiles got a call from her father-in-law. He he had woken up feeling fluey after attending an event a few days before.
As he spoke, Wiles looked up his closest Covid-19 testing centre on her phone. “I recommend you give them a call,” she told him, “because you are not coming for Christmas dinner.”
Her parents-in-law had been down to bring the ham. Christmas was, if not exactly cancelled, deferred to the day after Boxing Day, when Wiles’ father-in-law’s test came back negative.
It will no doubt have struck some as an overreaction. Wiles and her family live in Auckland, where local transmission of coronavirus had not been recorded since November. Since then, life in New Zealand had seemed deceptively normal.
That is what concerns Wiles. Last January she was a microbiologist at the University of Auckland, specialising in the scientific possibilities of bioluminescence, as well as a widely awarded media commentator.
Twelve months later, Wiles is New Zealand’s most famous scientist (at least its most visible, thanks to her trademark pink hair) and a lynchpin of its pandemic success, having been tireless and ever-present in her efforts to explain how the virus spreads: