Global landscape of SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance, public availability extent of genomic data, and epidemic shaped by variants

Yu H, Chen Z, Azman A, Chen X, Zou J, Tian Y, Sun R, Xu X, Wu Y, Lu W, Ge S, Zhao Z, Yang J, Leung D, Domman D

Genomic surveillance has shaped our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 variants, which have proliferated globally in 2021.We collected country-specific data on SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance, sequencing capabilities, public genomic data from multiple public repositories, and aggregated publicly available variant data. Then, different proxies were used to estimate the sequencing coverage and public availability extent of genomic data, in addition to describing the global dissemination of variants. We found that the COVID-19 global epidemic clearly featured increasing circulation of Alpha since the start of 2021, which was rapidly replaced by the Delta variant starting around May 2021. SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance and sequencing availability varied markedly across countries, with 63 countries performing routine genomic surveillance and 79 countries with high availability of SARS-CoV-2 sequencing. We also observed a marked heterogeneity of sequenced coverage across regions and countries. Across different variants, 21-46% of countries with explicit reporting on variants shared less than half of their variant sequences in public repositories. Our findings indicated an urgent need to expand sequencing capacity of virus isolates, enhance the sharing of sequences, the standardization of metadata files, and supportive networks for countries with no sequencing capability.