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India's celebration of festival of colours muted amid coronavirus fears

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s Hindu festival of Holi was subdued on Tuesday with fears of the coronavirus putting a damper on the usually boisterous celebration marked by the throwing of coloured powder and dousing with dyed water.

The two-day spring festival is a rowdy explosion of colour, with people smearing each other’s faces with green, yellow and red powder.

But the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 40 people in India, looks set to spoil the fun this year.

“Avoid participating in large gatherings,” the Ministry of Health said in notice warning of the danger of the virus, while wishing everyone a “Happy and Safe Holi”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said he would not celebrate Holi this year. Shopkeepers said rumours that the coloured powders and dyes revellers use in the festival were imported from China had hurt their sales.

The virus originated in China late last year.

“Customers are down by at least 50 to 60%,” said Suresh Singh, a shopkeeper in Lucknow, the capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, who sells the powders and dyes.

“Usually at this time of year the market is very crowded but now it’s quiet,” Singh said. “I’m not even selling colours from China ... they’re from Delhi.”

In a suburb of Mumbai, people put up a giant effigy of the coronavirus and set it ablaze. Women sang songs to banish the virus, telling it to “go away”, videos shared on social media showed.

Reporting by New Delhi newsroom; Editing by Alasdair Pal, Robert Birsel