The investigation of migratory patterns of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic before border closures in Europe is a crucial first step towards an in-depth evaluation of border closure policies. Here we analyze viral genome sequences using a phylodynamic model with geographic structure to estimate the origin and spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Europe prior to border closures. Based on SARS-CoV-2 genomes, we reconstruct a partial transmission tree of the early pandemic, including inferences of the geographic location of ancestral lineages and the number of migration events into and between European regions. We find that the predominant lineage spreading in Europe has a most recent common ancestor in Italy and was probably seeded by a transmission event in either Hubei or Germany. We do not find evidence for preferential migration paths from Hubei into different European regions or from each European region to the others. Sustained local transmission is first evident in Italy and then shortly thereafter in the other European regions considered. Before the first border closures in Europe, we estimate that the rate of occurrence of new cases from within-country transmission was within the bounds of the estimated rate of new cases from migration. In summary, our analysis offers a view on the early state of the epidemic in Europe and on migration patterns of the virus before border closures. This information will enable further study of the necessity and timeliness of border closures.
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