Genomic epidemiology of the first two waves of SARS-CoV-2 in Canada.

Angela McLaughlin, Vincent Montoya, Rachel L Miller, Gideon J Mordecai, , Michael Worobey, Art F Y Poon, Jeffrey B Joy, eLife 11, (2022)


Tracking the emergence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 lineages using phylogenetics has proven critical to inform the timing and stringency of COVID-19 public health interventions. We investigated the effectiveness of international travel restrictions at reducing SARS-CoV-2 importations and transmission in Canada in the first two waves of 2020 and early 2021. Maximum likelihood phylogenetic trees were used to infer viruses’ geographic origins, enabling identification of 2263 (95% confidence interval: 2159-2366) introductions, including 680 (658-703) Canadian sublineages, which are international introductions resulting in sampled Canadian descendants, and 1582 (1501-1663) singletons, introductions with no sampled descendants. Of the sublineages seeded during the first wave, 49% (46-52%) originated from the USA and were primarily introduced into Quebec (39%) and Ontario (36%), while in the second wave, the USA was still the predominant source (43%), alongside a larger contribution from India (16%) and the UK (7%). Following implementation of restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals on 21 March 2020, importations declined from 58.5 (50.4-66.5) sublineages per week to 10.3-fold (8.3-15.0) lower within 4 weeks. Despite the drastic reduction in viral importations following travel restrictions, newly seeded sublineages in summer and fall 2020 contributed to the persistence of COVID-19 cases in the second wave, highlighting the importance of sustained interventions to reduce transmission. Importations rebounded further in November, bringing newly emergent variants of concern (VOCs). By the end of February 2021, there had been an estimated 30 (19-41) B.1.1.7 sublineages imported into Canada, which increasingly displaced previously circulating sublineages by the end of the second wave.Although viral importations are nearly inevitable when global prevalence is high, with fewer importations there are fewer opportunities for novel variants to spark outbreaks or outcompete previously circulating lineages.