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Background With more than 50000 accumulated cases, Panama has one of the highest incidences of SARS-CoV-2 in Central America, despite the fast implementation of disease control strategies. We investigated the early transmission patterns of the virus and the outcomes of mitigation measures in the country. Methods We collected information from epidemiological surveillance, including contact tracing, and genetic data from SARS-CoV-2 whole genomes, of the first five weeks of the outbreak. These data were used to estimate the exponential growth rate, doubling time and the time-varying effective reproductive number (Rt) using date of symptom onset in a Bayesian framework. The time of most recent ancestor for the introduced and circulating lineages was estimated by Bayesian analysis. Findings A total of 4210 subjects were SARS-CoV-2 positive during the period evaluated, of them we sequenced 313 cases, detecting the circulation of 10 SARS-CoV-2 lineages. Whole genomes analysis identified the local transmission of one cryptic lineage as early as 2 weeks before it was detected by surveillance systems. Analysis of transmission dynamics showed that lockdown reduced Rt and increased the doubling time, however, these measures did not stop the circulation of this lineage in the country. Interpretation These results demonstrate the value of epidemiological modeling and genome surveillance to assess mitigation strategies. At the same time, an active search for cryptic transmission clusters is crucial to interrupt local transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in a region.

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