Estimating internationally imported cases during the early COVID-19 pandemic

Nat Commun. 2021 Jan 12;12(1):311. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-20219-8.


Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, predictions of international outbreaks were largely based on imported cases from Wuhan, China, potentially missing imports from other cities. We provide a method, combining daily COVID-19 prevalence and flight passenger volume, to estimate importations from 18 Chinese cities to 43 international destinations, including 26 in Africa. Global case importations from China in early January came primarily from Wuhan, but the inferred source shifted to other cities in mid-February, especially for importations to African destinations. We estimate that 10.4 (6.2 - 27.1) COVID-19 cases were imported to these African destinations, which exhibited marked variation in their magnitude and main sources of importation. We estimate that 90% of imported cases arrived between 17 January and 7 February, prior to the first case detections. Our results highlight the dynamic role of source locations, which can help focus surveillance and response efforts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa / epidemiology
  • Aircraft
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • China / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Pandemics*
  • Prevalence
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Travel* / statistics & numerical data