The SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.1.7, designated variant of concern (VOC) 202012/01 by Public Health England, was first identified in the UK in late summer to early autumn 2020. Whole-genome SARS-CoV-2 sequence data collected from community-based diagnostic testing for COVID-19 show an extremely rapid expansion of the B.1.1.7 lineage during autumn 2020, suggesting that it has a selective advantage. Here we show that changes in VOC frequency inferred from genetic data correspond closely to changes inferred by S gene target failures (SGTF) in community-based diagnostic PCR testing. Analysis of trends in SGTF and non-SGTF case numbers in local areas across England shows that B.1.1.7 has higher transmissibility than non-VOC lineages, even if it has a different latent period or generation time. The SGTF data indicate a transient shift in the age composition of reported cases, with cases of B.1.1.7 including a larger share of under 20-year-olds than non-VOC cases. We estimated time-varying reproduction numbers for B.1.1.7 and co-circulating lineages using SGTF and genomic data. The best-supported models did not indicate a substantial difference in VOC transmissibility among different age groups, but all analyses agreed that B.1.1.7 has a substantial transmission advantage over other lineages, with a 50% to 100% higher reproduction number.


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Volz, E., Mishra, S., Chand, M., Barrett, J., Johnson, R., Geidelberg, L., Hinsley, W., Laydon, D., Dabrera, G., O'Toole, Á., Amato, R., Ragonnet-Cronin, M., Harrison, I., Jackson, B., Ariani, C., Boyd, O., Loman, N., McCrone, J., Gonçalves, S., Jorgensen, D., Myers, R., Hill, V., Jackson, D., Gaythorpe, K., Groves, N., Sillitoe, J., Kwiatkowski, D., The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium, Flaxman, S., Ratmann, O., Bhatt, S., Hopkins, S., Gandy, A., Rambaut, A. & Ferguson, N. 2021, 'Assessing transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.1.7 in England', Nature, 593, pp. 266-269. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03470-x

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Last updated: 18 August 2022
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