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Investigating the first stage of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ukraine using epidemiological and genomic data.

Abstract

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in China in December 2019 and has rapidly spread around the globe. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020 just three months after the introduction of the virus. Individual nations have implemented and enforced a variety of social distancing interventions to slow the virus spread, that had different degrees of success. Understanding the role of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) on COVID-19 transmission in different settings is highly important. While most such studies have focused on China, neighboring Asian counties, Western Europe, and North America, there is a scarcity of studies for Eastern Europe. The aim of this study is to contribute to filling this gap by analyzing the characteristics of the first months of the epidemic in Ukraine using agent-based modelling and phylodynamics. Specifically, first we studied the dynamics of COVID-19 incidence and mortality and explored the impact of epidemic NPIs. Our stochastic model suggests, that even a small delay of weeks could have increased the number of cases by up to 50%, with the potential to overwhelm hospital systems. Second, the genomic data analysis suggests that there have been multiple introductions of SARS-CoV-2 into Ukraine during the early stages of the epidemic. Our findings support the conclusion that the implemented travel restrictions may have had limited impact on the epidemic spread. Third, the basic reproduction number for the epidemic that has been estimated independently from case counts data and from genomic data suggest sustained intra-country transmissions.

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