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Epidemiological update: Variants of SARS-CoV-2 in the Americas (26 January 2021)

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  • It has recently been documented that people infected with the VOC 202012/01 variant have a higher risk of death than people infected with other variants.

  • Preliminary studies suggest that the 501Y.V2 variant is associated with a higher viral load, which could suggest a potential for greater transmissibility.

  • An increase in the proportion of cases associated to the P.1 variant lineage B1.1.28 has been documented in Manaus (Amazonas State, Brazil). This proportion represented 52.2% (n = 35/67) of the genotyped samples of SARS-CoV-2 in December 2020, and increased to 85.4% (n = 41/48) in January 2021.


The appearance of mutations is a natural and expected event within the evolution of the virus. Since the initial genomic characterization of SARS-CoV-2, the virus has been divided into different genetic groups or clades.

In fact, some specific mutations define the viral genetic groups (also called lineages) that are currently circulating globally (Table 1 and Figure 1). Due to various microevolution processes and selection pressures, some additional mutations may appear, generating differences within each genetic group (called variants). It is important to mention that the name of the clade, lineage, variant, etc., are arbitrary and do not correspond to an official taxonomic hierarchy.

Since the initial identification of SARS-CoV-2 to date, more than 414,575 complete genomic sequences have been shared globally through publicly accessible databases. The capacity to monitor the data in near real time has a direct impact on the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a growing understanding of how genomic sequencing data (GSD) can contribute to improving public health actions, therefore the importance of expanding sequencing capacity in the Region. Currently, sequencing capacity and data are not uniformly distributed globally, with a skewed representation of the SARS-CoV-2 GSD from high-income countries.1 This bias must be considered when evaluating the presence or absence of a particular variant in a place and its relative frequency.