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DOI: 10.1101/2023.03.13.23287198

Importation of Alpha and Delta variants during the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in Switzerland: phylogenetic analysis and intervention scenarios

M.Reichmuth E. B. Hodcroft C. L. Althaus
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has led to the emergence of various variants of concern (VoCs) that are associated with increased transmissibility, immune evasion, or differences in disease severity. The emergence of VoCs fueled interest in understanding the potential impact of travel restrictions and surveillance strategies to prevent or delay the early spread of VoCs. We performed phylogenetic analyses and mathematical modeling to study the importation and spread of the VoCs Alpha and Delta in Switzerland in 2020 and 2021. Using a phylogenetic approach, we estimated 383-1,038 imports of Alpha and 455-1,347 imports of Delta into Switzerland. We then used the results from the phylogenetic analysis to parameterize a dynamic transmission that accurately described the subsequent spread of Alpha and Delta. We modeled different counterfactual intervention scenarios to quantify the potential impact of border closures and surveillance of travelers on the spread of Alpha and Delta. We found that implementing border closures after the announcement of VoCs would have been of limited impact to mitigate the spread of VoCs. In contrast, increased surveillance of travelers could prove to be an effective measure for delaying the spread of VoCs in situations where their severity remains unclear. Our study shows how phylogenetic analysis in combination with dynamic transmission models can be used to estimate the number of imported SARS-CoV-2 variants and the potential impact of different intervention scenarios to inform the public health response during the pandemic.