The SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.1.7, designated a Variant of Concern 202012/01 (VOC) by Public Health England1, originated in the UK in late Summer to early Autumn 20202. Whole genome SARS-CoV-2 sequence data collected from community-based diagnostic testing shows an unprecedentedly rapid expansion of the B.1.1.7 lineage during Autumn 2020, suggesting a selective advantage. We find that changes in VOC frequency inferred from genetic data correspond closely to changes inferred by S-gene target failures (SGTF) in community-based diagnostic PCR testing. Analysis of trends in SGTF and non-SGTF case numbers in local areas across England shows that the VOC has higher transmissibility than non-VOC lineages, even if the VOC has a different latent period or generation time. The SGTF data indicate a transient shift in the age composition of reported cases, with a larger share of under 20 year olds among reported VOC than non-VOC cases. Time-varying reproduction numbers for the VOC and cocirculating lineages were estimated using SGTF and genomic data. The best supported models did not indicate a substantial difference in VOC transmissibility among different age groups. There is a consensus among all analyses that the VOC has a substantial transmission advantage with a 50% to 100% higher reproduction number.
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The number of diagnosed cases over time for all English STP regions. Each line segment is shaded with the frequency of SGTF in each week. Vertical shaded regions represent the time of the 2nd and third UK lockdowns.
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Volz, E., Mishra, S., Chand, M. et al. Assessing transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.1.7 in England. Nature (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03470-x
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