SARS-CoV-2 introductions and early dynamics of the epidemic in Portugal uri icon


  • Genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in Portugal was rapidly implemented by the National Institute of Health in the early stages of the COVID-19 epidemic, in collaboration with more than 50 laboratories distributed nationwide. Methods By applying recent phylodynamic models that allow integration of individual-based travel history, we reconstructed and characterized the spatio-temporal dynamics of SARSCoV-2 introductions and early dissemination in Portugal. Results We detected at least 277 independent SARS-CoV-2 introductions, mostly from European countries (namely the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy, and Switzerland), which were consistent with the countries with the highest connectivity with Portugal. Although most introductions were estimated to have occurred during early March 2020, it is likely that SARS-CoV-2 was silently circulating in Portugal throughout February, before the first cases were confirmed. Conclusions Here we conclude that the earlier implementation of measures could have minimized the number of introductions and subsequent virus expansion in Portugal. This study lays the foundation for genomic epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 in Portugal, and highlights the need for systematic and geographically-representative genomic surveillance.
  • We gratefully acknowledge to Sara Hill and Nuno Faria (University of Oxford) and Joshua Quick and Nick Loman (University of Birmingham) for kindly providing us with the initial sets of Artic Network primers for NGS; Rafael Mamede (MRamirez team, IMM, Lisbon) for developing and sharing a bioinformatics script for sequence curation (; Philippe Lemey (KU Leuven) for providing guidance on the implementation of the phylodynamic models; Joshua L. Cherry (National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health) for providing guidance with the subsampling strategies; and all authors, originating and submitting laboratories who have contributed genome data on GISAID ( on which part of this research is based. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the view of the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, or the United States government. This study is co-funded by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia and Agência de Investigação Clínica e Inovação Biomédica (234_596874175) on behalf of the Research 4 COVID-19 call. Some infrastructural resources used in this study come from the GenomePT project (POCI-01-0145-FEDER-022184), supported by COMPETE 2020 - Operational Programme for Competitiveness and Internationalisation (POCI), Lisboa Portugal Regional Operational Programme (Lisboa2020), Algarve Portugal Regional Operational Programme (CRESC Algarve2020), under the PORTUGAL 2020 Partnership Agreement, through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT).

publication date

  • January 2022