Roles of generation-interval distributions in shaping relative epidemic strength, speed, and control of new SARS-CoV-2 variants Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • AbstractInferring the relative strength (i.e., the ratio of reproduction numbers, ℛvar/ℛwt) and relative speed (i.e., the difference between growth rates, rvarrwt) of new SARS-CoV-2 variants compared to their wild types is critical to predicting and controlling the course of the current pandemic. Multiple studies have estimated the relative strength of new variants from the observed relative speed, but they typically neglect the possibility that the new variants have different generation intervals (i.e., time between infection and transmission), which determines the relationship between relative strength and speed. Notably, the increasingly predominant B.1.1.7 variant may have a longer infectious period (and therefore, a longer generation interval) than prior dominant lineages. Here, we explore how differences in generation intervals between a new variant and the wild type affect the relationship between relative strength and speed. We use simulations to show how neglecting these differences can lead to biases in estimates of relative strength in practice and to illustrate how such biases can be assessed. Finally, we discuss implications for control: if new variants have longer generation intervals then speed-like interventions such as contact tracing become more effective, whereas strength-like interventions such as social distancing become less effective.