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Introductions and early spread of SARS-CoV-2 in France, 24 January to 23 March 2020

Euro Surveill Gámbaro F, Behillil S, Baidaliuk A, Donati F, Albert M, Alexandru A, Vanpeene M, Bizard M, Brisebarre A, Barbet M, Derrar F, van der Werf S, Enouf V, Simon-Loriere E

Following the emergence of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China in December 2019, specific COVID-19 surveillance was launched in France on January 10, 2020. Two weeks later, the first three imported cases of COVID-19 into Europe were diagnosed in France. We sequenced 97 severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) genomes from samples collected between January 24 and March 24, 2020 from infected patients in France. Phylogenetic analysis identified several early independent SARS-CoV-2 introductions without local transmission, highlighting the efficacy of the measures taken to prevent virus spread from symptomatic cases. In parallel, our genomic data reveals the later predominant circulation of a major clade in many French regions, and implies local circulation of the virus in undocumented infections prior to the wave of COVID-19 cases. This study emphasizes the importance of continuous and geographically broad genomic sequencing and calls for further efforts with inclusion of asymptomatic infections.

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