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medrxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.01.08.22268920


Background Early estimates from South Africa indicated that the Omicron COVID-19 variant may be both more transmissible and have greater immune escape than the previously dominant Delta variant. The rapid turnover of the latest epidemic wave in South Africa as well as initial evidence from contact tracing and household infection studies has prompted speculation that the generation time of the Omicron variant may be shorter in comparable settings than the generation time of the Delta variant. Methods We estimated daily growth rates for the Omicron and Delta variants in each UKHSA region from the 23rd of November to the 23rd of December 2021 using surveillance case counts by date of specimen and S-gene target failure status with an autoregressive model that allowed for time-varying differences in the transmission advantage of the Delta variant where the evidence supported this. By assuming a gamma distributed generation distribution we then estimated the generation time distribution and transmission advantage of the Omicron variant that would be required to explain this time varying advantage. We repeated this estimation process using two different prior estimates for the generation time of the Delta variant first based on household transmission and then based on its intrinsic generation time. Results Visualising our growth rate estimates provided initial evidence for a difference in generation time distributions. Assuming a generation time distribution for Delta with a mean of 2.5-4 days (90% credible interval) and a standard deviation of 1.9-3 days we estimated a shorter generation time distribution for Omicron with a mean of 1.5-3.2 days and a standard deviation of 1.3-4.6 days. This implied a transmission advantage for Omicron in this setting of 160%-210% compared to Delta. We found similar relative results using an estimate of the intrinsic generation time for Delta though all estimates increased in magnitude due to the longer assumed generation time. Conclusions We found that a reduction in the generation time of Omicron compared to Delta was able to explain the observed variation over time in the transmission advantage of the Omicron variant. However, this analysis cannot rule out the role of other factors such as differences in the populations the variants were mixing in, differences in immune escape between variants or bias due to using the test to test distribution as a proxy for the generation time distribution.

medrxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.05.22.21257633


Despite regional successes in controlling the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, global cases have reached an all time high in April 2021 in part due to the evolution of more transmissible variants. Here we use the dense genomic surveillance generated by the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium to reconstruct the dynamics of 62 different lineages in each of 315 English local authorities between September 2020 and April 2021. This analysis reveals a series of sub-epidemics that peaked in the early autumn of 2020, followed by a singular jump in transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 lineage. B.1.1.7 grew when other lineages declined during the second national lockdown and regionally tiered restrictions between November and December 2020. A third more stringent national lockdown eventually suppressed B.1.1.7 and eliminated nearly all other lineages in early 2021. However, a series of variants (mostly containing the spike E484K mutation) defied these trends and persisted at moderately increasing proportions. Accounting for sustained introductions, however, indicates that their transmissibility is unlikely to exceed that of B.1.1.7. Finally, B.1.617.2 was repeatedly introduced to England and grew rapidly in April 2021, constituting approximately 40% of sampled COVID-19 genomes on May 15.

biorxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.12.23.424229


Monitoring the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and reconstructing transmission chains has become a major public health focus for many governments around the world. The modest mutation rate and rapid transmission of SARS-CoV-2 prevents the reconstruction of transmission chains from consensus genome sequences, but within-host genetic diversity could theoretically help identify close contacts. Here we describe the patterns of within-host diversity in 1,181 SARS-CoV-2 samples sequenced to high depth in duplicate. 95% of samples show within-host mutations at detectable allele frequencies. Analyses of the mutational spectra revealed strong strand asymmetries suggestive of damage or RNA editing of the plus strand, rather than replication errors, dominating the accumulation of mutations during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Within and between host diversity show strong purifying selection, particularly against nonsense mutations. Recurrent within-host mutations, many of which coincide with known phylogenetic homoplasies, display a spectrum and patterns of purifying selection more suggestive of mutational hotspots than recombination or convergent evolution. While allele frequencies suggest that most samples result from infection by a single lineage, we identify multiple putative examples of co-infection. Integrating these results into an epidemiological inference framework, we find that while sharing of within-host variants between samples could help the reconstruction of transmission chains, mutational hotspots and rare cases of superinfection can confound these analyses.

Coinfection , Brain Diseases