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Genomic epidemiology reveals transmission patterns and dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 in Aotearoa New Zealand

Publication

Date: 20th August 2020 | Source: medRxiv

Authors: Jemma L Geoghegan, Xiaoyun Ren, Matthew Storey, James Hadfield, Lauren Jelley, Sarah Jefferies, Jill Sherwood, Shevaun Paine, Sue Huang, Jordan Douglas, Fabio K Mendes, Andrew Sporle, Michael G Baker, David R Murdoch, Nigel French, Colin R Simpson, David Welch, Alexei J Drummond, Edward C Holmes, Sebastian Duchene, Joep de Ligt.

New Zealand, a geographically remote Pacific island with easily sealable borders, implemented a nation-wide lockdown of all non-essential services to curb the spread of COVID-19. New Zealand experienced 102 days without community transmission before a new outbreak in August 2020.

Here, we generated 649 SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences from infected patients in New Zealand with samples collected from the 'first wave' between 26 February and 22 May 2020, representing 56% of all confirmed cases in this time period.

Despite its remoteness, the viruses imported into New Zealand represented nearly all of the genomic diversity sequenced from the global virus population. The proportion of D614G variants in the virus spike protein increased over time due to an increase in their importation frequency, rather than selection within New Zealand. These data also helped to quantify the effectiveness of public health interventions. For example, the effective reproductive number, Re, of New Zealand's largest cluster decreased from 7 to 0.2 within the first week of lockdown. Similarly, only 19% of virus introductions into New Zealand resulted in a transmission lineage of more than one additional case. Most of the cases that resulted in a transmission lineage originated from North America, rather than from Asia where the virus first emerged or from the nearest geographical neighbour, Australia.

Genomic data also helped link more infections to a major transmission cluster than through epidemiological data alone, providing probable sources of infections for cases in which the source was unclear. Overall, these results demonstrate the utility of genomic pathogen surveillance to inform public health and disease mitigation.

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