Quantification of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 in Switzerland

Epidemics. 2021 Dec;37:100480. doi: 10.1016/j.epidem.2021.100480. Epub 2021 Aug 9.


Background: In December 2020, the United Kingdom (UK) reported a SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern (VoC) which is now named B.1.1.7. Based on initial data from the UK and later data from other countries, this variant was estimated to have a transmission fitness advantage of around 40-80 % (Volz et al., 2021; Leung et al., 2021; Davies et al., 2021).

Aim: This study aims to estimate the transmission fitness advantage and the effective reproductive number of B.1.1.7 through time based on data from Switzerland.

Methods: We generated whole genome sequences from 11.8 % of all confirmed SARS-CoV-2 cases in Switzerland between 14 December 2020 and 11 March 2021. Based on these data, we determine the daily frequency of the B.1.1.7 variant and quantify the variant's transmission fitness advantage on a national and a regional scale.

Results: We estimate B.1.1.7 had a transmission fitness advantage of 43-52 % compared to the other variants circulating in Switzerland during the study period. Further, we estimate B.1.1.7 had a reproductive number above 1 from 01 January 2021 until the end of the study period, compared to below 1 for the other variants. Specifically, we estimate the reproductive number for B.1.1.7 was 1.24 [1.07-1.41] from 01 January until 17 January 2021 and 1.18 [1.06-1.30] from 18 January until 01 March 2021 based on the whole genome sequencing data. From 10 March to 16 March 2021, once B.1.1.7 was dominant, we estimate the reproductive number was 1.14 [1.00-1.26] based on all confirmed cases. For reference, Switzerland applied more non-pharmaceutical interventions to combat SARS-CoV-2 on 18 January 2021 and lifted some measures again on 01 March 2021.

Conclusion: The observed increase in B.1.1.7 frequency in Switzerland during the study period is as expected based on observations in the UK. In absolute numbers, B.1.1.7 increased exponentially with an estimated doubling time of around 2-3.5 weeks. To monitor the ongoing spread of B.1.1.7, our plots are available online.

Keywords: B.1.1.7; COVID-19; Pandemic; SARS-CoV-2; Transmission advantage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Switzerland / epidemiology
  • United Kingdom

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants