Covid Live Updates Omicron Vaccine and Booster News. “They want to remove us from society,” a Christian farmer said of Hindu extremists. Rising attacks on Christians are part of a broader shift in India, in which minorities feel less safe.  The Christians were mid-hymn when the mob kicked in the door.

A swarm of men dressed in saffron poured inside. They jumped onstage and shouted Hindu supremacist slogans. They punched pastors in the head. They threw women to the ground, sending terrified children scuttling under their chairs.

“They kept beating us, pulling out hair,” said Manish David, one of the pastors who was assaulted. “They yelled: ‘What are you doing here? What songs are you singing? What are you trying to do?’”

The attack unfolded on the morning of Jan. 26 at the Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra Christian center in the city of Indore. The police soon arrived, but the officers did not touch the aggressors. Instead, they arrested and jailed the pastors and other church elders, who were still dizzy from getting punched in the head. The Christians were charged with breaking a newly enforced law that targets religious conversions, one that mirrors at least a dozen other measures across the country that have prompted a surge in mob violence against Indian Christians.

Pastor David was not converting anyone, he said. But the organized assault against his church was propelled by a growing anti-Christian hysteria that is spreading across this vast nation, home to one of Asia’s oldest and largest Christian communities, with more than 30 million adherents.

Anti-Christian vigilantes are sweeping through villages, storming churches, burning Christian literature, attacking schools and assaulting worshipers. In many cases, the police and members of India’s governing party are helping them, government documents and dozens of interviews revealed. In church after church, the very act of worship has become dangerous despite constitutional protections for freedom of religion.

To many Hindu extremists, the attacks are justified — a means of preventing religious conversions. To them, the possibility that some Indians, even a relatively small number, would reject Hinduism for Christianity is a threat to their dream of turning India into a pure Hindu nation. Many Christians have become so frightened that they try to pass as Hindu to protect themselves.

“I just don’t get it,” said Abhishek Ninama, a Christian farmer, who stared dejectedly at a rural church stomped apart this year. “What is it that we do that makes them hate us so much?”

The pressure is greatest in central and northern India, where the governing party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is firmly in control, and where evangelical Christian groups are making inroads among lower-caste Hindus, albeit quietly. Pastors hold clandestine ceremonies at night. They conduct secret baptisms. They pass out audio Bibles that look like little transistor radios so that illiterate farmers can surreptitiously listen to the scripture as they plow their fields.

Since its independence in 1947, India has been the world’s largest experiment in democracy. At times, communal violence, often between Hindus and Muslims, has tested its commitment to religious pluralism, but usually the authorities try, albeit sometimes too slowly, to tamp it down.

The issue of conversions to Christianity from Hinduism is an especially touchy subject, one that has vexed the country for years and even drew in Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, who fiercely guarded India’s secular ideals. In the past few years, Mr. Modi and his Hindu nationalist party have tugged India far to the right, away from what many Indians see as the multicultural foundation Nehru built. The rising attacks on Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, are part of a broader shift in India, in which minorities feel less safe.

Mr. Modi is facing increasing international pressure to rein in his supporters and stop the persecution of Muslims and Christians. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government body, recommended that India be put on its red list for “severe violations of religious freedom” — a charge the Modi administration strongly denied.

But across India, the anti-Christian forces are growing stronger by the day, and they have many faces, including a white-collar army of lawyers and clerks who file legal complaints against Christian organizations. They also devise devastating social boycotts against isolated Christians in remote villages. According to extensive interviews, Hindu nationalists have blocked Christians from community wells, barred them from visiting Hindu homes and ostracized villagers for believing in Jesus. Last year, in one town, they stopped people from gathering on Christmas.

“Christians are being suppressed, discriminated against and persecuted at rising levels like never before in India,” said Matias Perttula, the advocacy director at International Christian Concern, a leading anti-persecution group. “And the attackers run free, every time.”
‘They Want to Remove Us From Society’

Dilip Chouhan sits in an office behind a copy shop in the small central Indian town of Alirajpur, meaty arms folded across his chest. Above him stretches a poster of a tribal warrior. Mr. Chouhan is part of a growing network of anti-Christian muscle.

Just the mention of Christians makes his face pucker, as if he licked a lemon.

“These ‘believers,’” he said, using the term derisively, “they promise all kinds of stuff — motorcycles, TVs, fridges. They work off superstition. They mislead people.”

Mr. Chouhan lives in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, which this year passed an anti-conversion law that carries prison sentences of up to 10 years for any person found guilty of leading illegal conversions, which are vaguely defined. Energized by this law, Mr. Chouhan, 35, and scores of other young Hindu nationalists have stormed a string of churches. Some of the raids were broadcast on the news, including footage of Mr. Chouhan barging into one church with a shotgun on his back.

He said he wore the gun on his back simply out of “fashion,” and a senior police officer in that area said there would be no charges. Instead, as happened with the Indore episode, several pastors in the ransacked churches were jailed on charges of illegal conversions. Police officials declined to share their evidence.

Mr. Chouhan says his group, which uses WhatsApp to plan its raids on upcoming church services, has 5,000 members. It is part of a constellation of Hindu nationalist organizations across the country, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or R.S.S., as well as many members of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or the B.J.P.

“The B.J.P. is really into this issue, big time,” said Gaurav Tiwari, a party youth leader in Madhya Pradesh.

His B.J.P. comrades in the neighboring state of Chhattisgarh recently conducted several anti-Christian marches during which they belted out: “Converters! Let’s beat them with shoes!” In September, they did exactly that: A throng of young B.J.P. workers from the same chapter barged into a Chhattisgarh police station and hurled shoes at two pastors and beat them up — right in front of police officers.

“I slapped that pastor five or six times,” bragged Rahul Rao, a 34-year-old contractor and officer holder of the B.J.P. youth cell. “It was immensely satisfying.”

In this case, police officers have charged Mr. Rao, who was bailed out by other B.J.P. members. But in many cases, the authorities take the mob’s side.

A recently leaked letter, from a top police official in Chhattisgarh to his underlings, reads: “Keep a constant vigil on the activities of Christian missionaries.”

Another leaked document, from a district administrator in Baghpat, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, last year denied Christians the right to celebrate Christmas at a church. And just a few weeks ago, an esteemed Hindu priest presented, in public, with B.J.P. leaders sharing a stage with him, his remedy for those who try to convert others: beheading.

Two new studies suggest that Omicron infections more often result in mild illness, compared with previous variants of the coronavirus, offering hope that the current surge may not be quite as catastrophic as feared, despite skyrocketing caseloads in much of the world.

The research, conducted in Britain and released on Wednesday, indicated that Omicron is less likely to put people in hospitals.

“What you’ve heard is a qualified good-news story,” Dr. Jim McMenamin, incident director for Covid-19 at Public Health Scotland, said at a news briefing at which he and colleagues presented data gleaned from Scottish hospitals.

While the results are heartening, Dr. McMenamin and other experts still warned that hospitals could be flooded with Omicron cases, because the variant transmits so much more than previous ones.

Dr. McMenamin and his colleagues examined Delta and Omicron cases in November and December, looking at how many were admitted to a hospital. They reported that Omicron infections are associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospitalization compared to the Delta variant.

Also on Wednesday, a team of researchers at Imperial College London looked at Omicron and Delta cases in the first two weeks of December and saw a smaller reduction in visits to hospitals.

Initial estimates suggest that compared with Delta variant cases, individuals infected with Omicron are 15 to 20 percent on average less likely to turn up in hospitals overall, and 40 to 45 percent less likely to be hospitalized for a night or more.

Paradoxically, though, the researchers also found the Omicron virus is not that much less dangerous than Delta.

Much of the reduction in severity is linked to the fact that Omicron is better at infecting people who have already had a case of Covid. While so-called reinfection with Omicron is much more common than with Delta, these cases are less likely to put people in the hospital.

The difference between the English and Scottish results may be due in part to the data the scientists could study. For England, the Imperial College London team included people who just visited a hospital in addition to those who had to be put in a bed for more serious illness. The Scottish researchers looked only at hospital admissions.

Both teams of scientists cautioned that the results were still preliminary. For one thing, Omicron is still working its way through Britain and has yet to make much headway among older people who might be at greater risk of hospitalization. “It’s important we don’t get ahead of ourselves,” Dr. McMenamin said.

But Omicron still poses a serious risk to hospitals, the scientists warned, because cases are exploding so quickly. “We’re not at a place to treat this as a cold,” Azra Ghani of Imperial College said.

New York City’s public hospital system began limiting visitors on Wednesday amid a spike in coronavirus infections because of the Omicron variant.

Dr. Mitchell Katz, the chief executive of New York City Health and Hospitals, which operates the city’s 11 public hospitals, said the policy was put in place after visitors were linked to an outbreak at one hospital.

City officials declined to name the hospital, saying they did not want to deter people from seeking care.

Visitors will not be allowed except to see women in labor, people at the end of life, sick children, and those with intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairments like dementia. Visitors will have to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test no more than 48 hours before the day of the visit.

​“We’ve had a recent outbreak in one of our hospitals that we think is related to visitors — not, of course, their fault; there’s so much transmission going on right now in New York City because of Omicron,” Dr. Katz said Wednesday morning at a news conference.

“For a short while, while we get the situation under control, we are going to have limited visitation,” Dr. Katz added. “We’ll always make exceptions in extreme cases.”

The curtailing of visitation comes as the city is reporting an average of more than 10,000 new coronavirus infections per day, a 342 percent increase from two weeks ago.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said at the same news conference that he had requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency add 100 mobile Covid testing sites in the city.

Covid is raging, the variant is raging,” Mr. Schumer said. “We need these mobile testing sites. You see people lined up in every part of the city waiting to be tested.”

The city has also just added seven new testing sites, bringing the total to 119 sites, after reports of long waits at some sites. The city will also add five mobile distribution sites to hand out rapid at-home tests.

In spite of the rise in infections, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city will not shut down because he believes the Omicron variant will create a “brief and intense” period of new infections.

“We are not telling people to hide, or hunker down, or surrender to this situation,” Mr. de Blasio said Wednesday morning on CNN. “We’re telling people to be smart.”

The mayor urged those who are unvaccinated to get their shots and those who are eligible to get a booster. People who are sick or have pre-existing conditions should also take precautions, the mayor said.

Speaking on MSNBC, Mr. de Blasio said Wednesday morning that he would prefer for the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square to proceed.

“It does not make sense to do shutdowns,” he said. “So, we think about that event in the same vein. We’d like that event to move forward, so long as we can do it safely.