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Tracing the international arrivals of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variants after Aotearoa New Zealand reopened its border.


In the second quarter of 2022, there was a global surge of emergent SARS-CoV-2 lineages that had a distinct growth advantage over then-dominant Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 lineages. By generating 10,403 Omicron genomes, we show that Aotearoa New Zealand observed an influx of these immune-evasive variants (BA.2.12.1, BA.4, and BA.5) through the border. This is explained by the return to significant levels of international travel following the border’s reopening in March 2022. We estimate one Omicron transmission event from the border to the community for every ~5,000 passenger arrivals at the current levels of travel and restriction. Although most of these introductions did not instigate any detected onward transmission, a small minority triggered large outbreaks. Genomic surveillance at the border provides a lens on the rate at which new variants might gain a foothold and trigger new waves of infection.

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