Genomic Epidemiology Reveals Multiple Introductions of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 in Niigata City, Japan, Between February and May 2020

Front Microbiol. 2021 Oct 28:12:749149. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.749149. eCollection 2021.


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has caused a serious disease burden and poses a tremendous public health challenge worldwide. Here, we report a comprehensive epidemiological and genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 from 63 patients in Niigata City, a medium-sized Japanese city, during the early phase of the pandemic, between February and May 2020. Among the 63 patients, 32 (51%) were female, with a mean (±standard deviation) age of 47.9 ± 22.3 years. Fever (65%, 41/63), malaise (51%, 32/63), and cough (35%, 22/63) were the most common clinical symptoms. The median C t value after the onset of symptoms lowered within 9 days at 20.9 cycles (interquartile range, 17-26 cycles), but after 10 days, the median C t value exceeded 30 cycles (p < 0.001). Of the 63 cases, 27 were distributed in the first epidemic wave and 33 in the second, and between the two waves, three cases from abroad were identified. The first wave was epidemiologically characterized by a single cluster related to indoor sports activity spread in closed settings, which included mixing indoors with families, relatives, and colleagues. The second wave showed more epidemiologically diversified events, with most index cases not related to each other. Almost all secondary cases were infected by droplets or aerosols from closed indoor settings, but at least two cases in the first wave were suspected to be contact infections. Results of the genomic analysis identified two possible clusters in Niigata City, the first of which was attributed to clade S (19B by Nexstrain clade) with a monophyletic group derived from the Wuhan prototype strain but that of the second wave was polyphyletic suggesting multiple introductions, and the clade was changed to GR (20B), which mainly spread in Europe in early 2020. These findings depict characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the early stages in local community settings during February to May 2020 in Japan, and this integrated approach of epidemiological and genomic analysis may provide valuable information for public health policy decision-making for successful containment of chains of infection.

Keywords: COVID-19; Japan; SARS-CoV-2; active epidemiological surveillance; airborne; contact transmission; droplet; genomic epidemiology.