Evolutionary history and introduction of SARS-CoV-2 Alpha VOC/B.1.1.7 in Pakistan through international travelers

Asghar Nasir, Ali Raza Bukhari, Nídia S. Trovão, Peter M. Thielen, Akbar Kanji, Syed Faisal Mahmood, Najia Karim Ghanchi, Zeeshan Ansar, Brian Merritt, Thomas Mehoke, Safina Abdul Razzak, Muhammed Asif Syed, Suhail Raza Shaikh, Mansoor Wassan, Uzma Bashir Aamir, Guy Baele, Zeba Rasmussen, David Spiro, Rumina Hasan, Zahra Hasan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants continue to emerge, and their identification is important for the public health response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Genomic sequencing provides robust information but may not always be accessible, and therefore, mutation-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) approaches can be used for rapid identification of known variants. International travelers arriving in Karachi between December 2020 and February 2021 were tested for SARS-CoV-2 by PCR. A subset of positive samples was tested for S-gene target failure (SGTF) on TaqPathTM COVID-19 (Thermo Fisher Scientific) and for mutations using the GSD NovaType SARS-CoV-2 (Eurofins Technologies) assays. Sequencing was conducted on the MinION platform (Oxford Nanopore Technologies). Bayesian phylogeographic inference was performed integrating the patients' travel history information. Of the thirty-five COVID-19 cases screened, thirteen had isolates with SGTF. The travelers transmitted infection to sixty-eight contact cases. The B.1.1.7 lineage was confirmed through sequencing and PCR. The phylogenetic analysis of sequence data available for six cases included four B.1.1.7 strains and one B.1.36 and B.1.1.212 lineage isolate. Phylogeographic modeling estimated at least three independent B.1.1.7 introductions into Karachi, Pakistan, originating from the UK. B.1.1.212 and B.1.36 were inferred to be introduced either from the UK or the travelers' layover location. We report the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 and other lineages in Pakistan by international travelers arriving via different flight routes. This highlights SARS-CoV-2 transmission through travel, importance of testing, and quarantine post-travel to prevent transmission of new strains, as well as recording detailed patients' metadata. Such results help inform policies on restricting travel from destinations where new highly transmissible variants have emerged.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberveac020
JournalVirus Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • B.1.1.7 variant
  • Bayesian inference
  • Markov chain Monte Carlo
  • Pakistan
  • phylodynamics
  • phylogenetics


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