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Genomic epidemiology and emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern in the United Arab Emirates
AbstractSince the declaration of SARS-CoV-2 outbreak as a pandemic, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) public health authorities have adopted strict measures to reduce transmission as early as March 2020. As a result of these measures, flight suspension, nationwide RT-PCR and surveillance of viral sequences were extensively implemented. This study aims to characterize the epidemiology, transmission pattern, and emergence of variants of concerns (VOCs) and variants of interests (VOIs) of SARS-CoV-2 in the UAE, followed by the investigation of mutations associated with hospitalized cases. A total of 1274 samples were collected and sequenced from all seven emirates between the period of 25 April 2020 to 15 February 2021. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated multiple introductions of SARS-CoV-2 into the UAE in the early pandemic, followed by a local spread of root clades (A, B, B.1 and B.1.1). As the international flight resumed, the frequencies of VOCs surged indicating the January peak of positive cases. We observed that the hospitalized cases were significantly associated with the presence of B.1.1.7 (p  0.001), B.1.351 (p  0.001) and A.23.1 (p = 0.009). Deceased cases are more likely to occur in the presence of B.1.351 (p  0.001) and A.23.1 (p = 0.022). Logistic and ridge regression showed that 51 mutations are significantly associated with hospitalized cases with the highest proportion originated from S and ORF1a genes (31% and 29% respectively). Our study provides an epidemiological insight of the emergence of VOCs and VOIs following the borders reopening and worldwide travels. It provides reassurance that hospitalization is markedly more associated with the presence of VOCs. This study can contribute to understand the global transmission of SARS-CoV-2 variants.
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