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medrxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.11.17.21266297


Genome sequencing is a powerful tool for identifying SARS-CoV-2 variant lineages, however there can be limitations due to sequence drop-out when used to identify specific key mutations. Recently, Thermo Fisher Scientific have developed genotyping assays to help bridge the gap between testing capacity and sequencing capability to generate real-time genotyping results based on specific variants. Over a 6-week period during the months of April and May 2021, we set out to assess the Thermo Fisher TaqMan Mutation Panel Genotyping Assay, initially for three mutations of concern and then an additional two mutations of concern, against SARS-CoV-2 positive clinical samples and the corresponding COG-UK sequencing data. We demonstrate that genotyping is a powerful in-depth technique for identifying specific mutations, an excellent complement to genome sequencing and has real clinical health value potential allowing laboratories to report and action variants of concern much quicker.

medrxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.04.02.21254839


The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19), is a single-stranded positive-sense ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus that typically undergoes one to two single nucleotide mutations per month. COVID-19 continues to spread globally, with case fatality and test positivity rates often linked to locally circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, mutations in this virus, in particular those occurring in the spike protein (involved in the virus binding to the host epithelial cells) have potential implications in current vaccination efforts. In Rwanda, more than twenty thousand cases have been confirmed as of March 14th 2021, with a case fatality rate of 1.4% and test positivity rate of 2.3% while the recovery rate is at 91.9%. Rwanda started its genomic surveillance efforts, taking advantage of pre-existing research projects and partnerships, to ensure early detection of SARS-CoV-2 variants and to potentially contain the spread of variants of concern (VOC). As a result of this initiative, we here present 203 SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequences analyzed from strains circulating in the country from May 2020 to February 2021. In particular, we report a shift in variant distribution towards the newly emerging sub-lineage A.23.1 that is currently dominating. Furthermore, we report the detection of the first Rwandan cases of the VOCs, B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, among incoming travelers tested at Kigali International Airport. We also discuss the potential impact of COVID-19 control measures established in the country to control the spread of the virus. To assess the importance of viral introductions from neighboring countries and local transmission, we exploit available individual travel history metadata to inform spatio-temporal phylogeographic inference, enabling us to take into account infections from unsampled locations during the time frame of interest. We uncover an important role of neighboring countries in seeding introductions into Rwanda, including those from which no genomic sequences are currently available or that no longer report positive cases. Our results point to the importance of systematically screening all incoming travelers, regardless of the origin of their travels as well as regional considerations for durable response to COVID-19.

medrxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.10.23.20218446


The UK's COVID-19 epidemic during early 2020 was one of world's largest and unusually well represented by virus genomic sampling. Here we reveal the fine-scale genetic lineage structure of this epidemic through analysis of 50,887 SARS-CoV-2 genomes, including 26,181 from the UK sampled throughout the country's first wave of infection. Using large-scale phylogenetic analyses, combined with epidemiological and travel data, we quantify the size, spatio-temporal origins and persistence of genetically-distinct UK transmission lineages. Rapid fluctuations in virus importation rates resulted in >1000 lineages; those introduced prior to national lockdown were larger and more dispersed. Lineage importation and regional lineage diversity declined after lockdown, whilst lineage elimination was size-dependent. We discuss the implications of our genetic perspective on transmission dynamics for COVID-19 epidemiology and control.

medrxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.07.31.20166082


Global dispersal and increasing frequency of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein variant D614G are suggestive of a selective advantage but may also be due to a random founder effect. We investigate the hypothesis for positive selection of Spike D614G in the United Kingdom using more than 25,000 whole genome SARS-CoV-2 sequences. Despite the availability of a large data set, well represented by both Spike 614 variants, not all approaches showed a conclusive signal of positive selection. Population genetic analysis indicates that 614G increases in frequency relative to 614D in a manner consistent with a selective advantage. We do not find any indication that patients infected with the Spike 614G variant have higher COVID-19 mortality or clinical severity, but 614G is associated with higher viral load and younger age of patients. Significant differences in growth and size of 614G phylogenetic clusters indicate a need for continued study of this variant.