In an insightful lecture at the Graz Lung Days in November, Professor Dr. Tobias Welte from the Medical University of Hanover addressed a pertinent question: 'What comes after Covid-19?' The discourse revolved around the dynamic of global infectious diseases, predicting that pandemics might occur every 5 to 10 years.
From Pandemic to Endemic
Professor Welte highlighted that although Covid-19 has transitioned from a pandemic to an endemic, it will continue to affect health during autumn and winter months for years to come. He emphasized that the severity of the disease has seen a marked decrease since its onset and the number of people requiring hospitalization or intensive care has significantly dropped.
Estimating the Infection Rate
However, he pointed out that the actual infection rate is likely underestimated due to reduced testing. He suggested that wastewater analysis provides a clearer picture of the infection landscape, indicating an incidence of 300 to 400 cases per 100,000 people in Austria.
Unearthing Insights through Research
The lecture incorporated various studies and contributions from different researchers, providing a comprehensive understanding of the evolving infectious disease environment and the ongoing impact of Covid-19. These studies spanned diverse perspectives, from predicting influential scholarly documents using machine learning, simulating epidemic transmission, vaccination, and control scenarios, to exploring the long-term consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of children.
Noteworthy among the discussed studies was a new AI tool developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School, named EVEscape. This tool employs a deep-learning model of evolutionary viral sequences combined with detailed biological and structural information about the virus to predict new viral variants before they emerge.
The lecture also touched upon the concept of 'new normality' in the context of post-crises, including the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impact of uncertainty on social practices. The need to go beyond traditional normative understandings of normality was stressed, advocating for the use of speculative fictions as realms to help people experiment and envision different scenarios of the future.
Lastly, the lecture highlighted the findings of two new analyses from Sweden and Pakistan emphasizing the benefits of partial or full Covid-19 vaccination in preventing persistent symptoms. It underscored the importance of pandemic preparedness and the need to ensure manufacturing capacity for future emergencies, providing insightful lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.