Routes of importation and spatial dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 variants during localised interventions in Chile

23 January 2024


Bernardo Gutierrez1, Joseph L.-H. Tsui, Giulia Pullano, Mattia Mazzoli, Karthik Gangavarapu, Rhys P.D. Inward, Sumali Bajaj1, Rosario Evans Pena1, Simon Busch-Moreno, Marc A. Suchard, Oliver G. Pybus, Alejandra Dunner, Rodrigo Puentes, Salvador Ayala, Jorge Fernandez, Rafael Araos, Leo Ferres, Vittoria Colizza & Moritz U.G. Kraemer

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South America suffered large SARS-CoV-2 epidemics between 2020 and 2022 caused by multiple variants of interest and concern, some causing substantial morbidity and mortality. However, their transmission dynamics are poorly characterised. The epidemic situation in Chile enables us to investigate differences in the distribution and spread of variants Alpha, Gamma, Lambda, Mu and Delta. Chile implemented non-pharmaceutical interventions and an integrated genomic and epidemiological surveillance system that included airport and community surveillance to track SARS-CoV-2 variants. Here we combine viral genomic data and anonymised human mobility data from mobile phones to characterise the routes of importation of different variants into Chile, the relative contributions of airport-based importations to viral diversity versus land border crossings and test the impact of the mobility network on the diffusion of viral lineages within the country. We find that Alpha, Lambda and Mu were identified in Chile via airport surveillance six, four and five weeks ahead of their detection via community surveillance, respectively. Further, some variants that originated in South America were imported into Chile via land rather than international air travel, most notably Gamma. Different variants exhibited similar trends of viral dissemination throughout the country following their importation, and we show that the mobility network predicts the time of arrival of imported lineages to different Chilean comunas. Higher stringency of local NPIs was also associated with fewer domestic viral importations. Our results show how genomic surveillance combined with high resolution mobility data can help predict the multi-scale geographic expansion of emerging infectious diseases.