The Medical Research Council and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) are funding research efforts at the Centre for Arbovirus Discovery, Diagnosis, Genomics and Epidemiology (CADDE) in Brazil.
Researchers have generated the first COVID-19 genomes from South America and tracked the in-country spread.
Their sequencing and analysis of the first two COVID-19 virus genomes in Brazil shows two independent virus introductions to the country.
The CADDE team, comprising UK and Brazilian researchers, tracked the virus’s spread into five regions and confirmed local transmission in six states by March 2020.
Travel data helps estimate COVID-19 importations
The researchers at CADDE estimated the amount of people entering the country with COVID-19 based on travel data. This estimation was called ‘COVID-19 importations’.
Brazil’s economy is heavily based on tourism, so COVID-19 importations were a major concern for the efforts in Brazil.
Between February and March 2019, Brazil received almost 1 million international passengers from around the world. São Paulo, the largest city in the country, was the final destination of nearly half the people arriving in Brazil, followed by Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.
In 2019, more than half of the international passengers started their journey in the USA, followed by France and Italy.
Understanding this travel pattern was key to tracking and estimating the potential COVID-19 importations to Brazil during the 2020 pandemic.
Tracking the virus in Brazil
The team at CADDE used the previous incidence and air travel data to discover the most likely routes of entry for the virus.
They identified São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as areas with a high potential for new cases and released a suite of reports about their research, including how to track the virus.
The team said continued surveillance of new cases would be ‘critical’ to understand how the virus arrived in Brazil and how it is transmitted in different settings, as well as to identify possible clusters of local transmission.
Their research into epidemiological tracing and genome sequence analysis found that the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil had significant connections to the Italian outbreak.
Incidentally, they also found a few Swiss genomes that had been deposited too, which seems to confirm the hypothesis that, just like the COVID-19 importations in Brazil, the COVID-19 importations in northern Italy had multiple virus introductions from the local region.
Last updated: 23 October 2020