Christmas covid rules: a lot of confusion

christmas covid rules: events cancelled

update December 30, 2020 on the rules for watching the fireworks in Funchal. If you have already read the rest of the article, you can jump to the update section here.

Last week Wednesday, November 25th, the regional government of Madeira has issued extra covid measures for the coming weeks. The Christmas covid rules come on top of the rules that were already in place. Anyway, the extra rules did not come as a big surprise. Because with slightly over 200 cases now, things are not going well at all. Instead of the visitors to the island bringing new chains of virus transmission in, it’s the local chains that are worrying. But even though new measures are indeed necessary, the ones that have been put in place now create a lot of confusion and seem not to be well and completely thought out, as you will find when you read on. Things are bound to change and therefore, this article is subject to regular updates.


It all started with one big mistake. Previously, people who went to mainland Portugal – or abroad – for only a short period of less than 72 hours, were exempt from testing upon arrival at the airport.  This seemed not completely illogical. If you travel to Madeira as a visitor, you are exempt as well if you have a negative test result for covid-19 that is no older than the same 72 hours.


Obviously, the authorities considered that they had to create equality on this level. Seeing that there were no local chains of transmission at the time, you could assume that everyone leaving on such a short stay on the continent or elsewhere were covid free when they left, and they are not a greater risk upon return than others who have been walking around freely for 72 hours after their test was taken.

What they did not consider was that a lot of people going to the continent for a short stay were young people participating in sports competitions. Younger people consider themselves immortal as it is. And as most of them are hardly affected by the coronavirus if they catch it, they are not really concerned. Imagine them in larger groups, gathering in sports events. They have a lot of physical contacts and there’s a lot of panting in the confinement of a locker room. So, there you have it. This was exactly what caused the first transmission chains on the island.


As most of these young people are still in school, or else at university, we saw the number of local transmissions explode. Some school classes were sent home because some students were infected but the number of local transmissions keeps increasing steadily anyway. The students infected their parents and siblings, after maybe already having infected teachers. Even a number of health professionals have been infected. Was that because they treated sports injuries? We will probably never know and it’s really not important.

No wonder the health authorities wanted to create extra measures to stop a further uncontrolled spreading of the virus. They could have – maybe even should have – closed the schools, but thy didn’t. Instead a number of extra covid rules were announced, some of which really make me raise an eyebrow.


For tourists and visitors, not much changed. You still get a test upon arrival if you don’t already carry a negative result. And you still have to register with and follow all the existing rules I already explained in an earlier article here. Fortunately, you can still eat out, you can still visit a bar for a nice poncha, as long as you wear your mask when you are moving around. The difference lies in the measures for residents and returning emigrants.

extra rules for residents and migrants

Residents or migrants who return to the island have to undergo two PCR-tests. One upon arrival, another one 5 to 7 days after arrival. In the meantime, they have to self-isolate. Having many friends who fall in the category residents and knowing people whose children who have emigrated and will return home for Christmas, I can image the inconvenience this causes. What I can also imagine, is the many questions that arise after this was announced.


One of my friends has just arrived back from Germany. I called him today, to see if he needed anything as he is a resident and has to self-isolate. He did not need any help at this time, but he did tell me what happened at the airport where he took the test. He asked the obvious question: where and when and by whom will the second covid-19 test be taken? You can imagine he was gobsmacked when they told him they didn’t know. He was given a scrap of paper with three telephone numbers. Careful readers will recognise the numbers as the ones of the Airport Operation of IASaúde, the same ones that are usually not answered, as we have learned from several visitors who had to wait for their test results (a lot) longer than 12 hours.  

This gave me enough cause to write an email to the ministry of tourism. There is more in this mail, as they seem to be slacking. The website they run still has not added these new rules, so it’s time to give them a shake. When (or rather if) I get an answer I will add it here.

Chriistmas covid rules: obviously a bit premature. The infrastructure is not in place.
The numbers of the Airport Covid operation. These numbers are almost nevere answered.


What’s also strange is the 5 to 7 days range they indicate for the second test. So randomly, they decide whether you have to be in confinement for 5, 6 or 7 days. I think this is not only ridiculous, but it creates inequality for which there is no legal basis. Speaking of which, there is also the matter of the legal inequality that these measures create. Inequality between visitors on one hand and residents and returning emigrants on the other.

I have already been asking around on the internet. And the emotional answer many Madeirans and foreigners living here gave was along the lines of ‘if you don’t like the rules, just stay away’. Yes, I can see that people are afraid and don’t want others messing with their safety. But especially the Portuguese, who have lived under a dictatorship till not all that long ago, should appreciate the function of a constitution. And they should really not allow any government, national or regional, to mess with basic civil rights at their own convenience. There should be a balance between what’s necessary and what’s reasonable. And there certainly should not be inequality between individual persons.  Such inequality has no legal basis and is therefore simply illegal.  

emotional reactions

Looking at the internet, I also found the regional president Miguel Albuquerque threatening with prison sentences for anyone not respecting the confinement rules. Asking around on Facebook resulted in the same emotional reactions. But one person tried to get to the bottom of it and came up with the fact that there is a state of emergency.

We have indeed learned that the national government in Lisbon has again called the state of emergency for the entire Portuguese territory. Clearly, that includes the autonomous regions of Madeira and the Azores. But the website of the regional government says on its front page that Madeira is in state of calamity. And that is not the same and offers a lot fewer liberties to the government.  It is probably a mere lack of decent communication. Then again, the Madeiran authorities are notorious for that. But even in a state of emergency, I wonder if creating legal inequality is not in violation with the constitution.

The christmas covid measures make some eyebrows lift. State of emergency? Then why does the official website states state of calamity.

less fun

The rest of the new measures is of less consequence for your freedom of movement. Unfortunately, they do take away a number of fun things that we normally enjoy during the festive season. There won’t be ‘noites do mercado’, evening markets with a lot of entertainment, in any municipality of Madeira, vending stalls seem to be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks only as take-away (where’s the fun in that?), no funfair in Funchal and the fireworks this year will be limited and people are recommended to see them from their homes.

For those who can’t, there will be – again limited – viewing points in Funchal. The St. Sylvester’s race has been cancelled and Christmas celebrations in the churches will have to comply with the general measures. The famous Missas de Parto will take place, but without the traditional gathering for breakfast afterwards. Some things are not completely clear, but I’m sure that they will be later this month.

The christmas covid rules cancelled the St. Sylvester rund
Massa de Parto close to our home in Fajã da Ovelha. Due to the Christmas covid rules these after-church breakfast gatherings can't take place this year.

Restaurants are lucky, they can remain open until midnight on December 30, and up to 01.00 AM on new years eve.

kissing and hugging: infections guaranteed

Even though I have serious questions about the legal merits of the separate rules for residents and immigrants, I do understand what the thoughts behind them are. They know that Portuguese do a lot of kissing and hugging as it is. They will certainly go all-out when emigrants return or when students return from the mainland. Virus transmissions guaranteed. Therefore, it does make sense that they wanted to put Christmas covid rules in place to keep residents returning to the island (as in students) at home for a second test, to make sure they are clean. The same goes for migrants that return to Madeira to see their family for Christmas.

Migrants arriving back home in Madeira
A flight full of migrants from Venezuela
Sport clubs are hubs of covid transmissions. Hence the new Christmas covid rules.

lucky ones

As for the less questionable rules, they serve above all to prevent large gatherings of people. All very sensible. Let’s count ourselves the lucky ones that we can still go places, we can still go out and have a poncha or a meal, unlike in many European countries. We will still be able to see the abundant Christmas lights in all places over the island. And there is a light at the end of the tunnel looking at the increasing number of vaccines that are being developed. Meanwhile, I will try find out about all the confusing stuff I mentioned, meanwhile, we will keep complying with the rules.

All these Christmas covid rules have been put into place for only two weeks, that is until December 11. Seeing the numbers of local transmissions not really lessen, But I am sure they will remain in place for the whole Christmas and New Years period, probably until the real end of the festivities mid-January. I will keep you posted.

new collaboration

I am very happy to announce that some of my articles will soon be given a new platform that will be seen by a wide circle of readers. Peter Marsland of the MadeiraIslandDirect News Blog and myself have decided to start working together to our mutual benefit. This article was chosen by Peter to feature in his news site. Others will follow.

For first time visitors to my web site, here are two links to relevant articles for visitors to Madeira in these times of covid-19.

We are still able to go and see the abundant Christmasa lights, in spite of the new Christmas covid rules.

update on new year’s fireworks

press conferences

In the last two weeks, several press conferences were announced, but it turned out to be much ado about nothing. It all amounted to the advice to keep your Christmas dinner withing your own household (an advice, not an imposed measure). I frankly don’t see many Portuguese families refrain from their Christmas traditions. I am sure they had their Christmas dinners the way they always do and to be honest, if you haven’t seen your children for some time, it’s difficult to not see them for Christmas even when they are near. Another tradition just before Christmas is the slaughter of a pig. Complete families gather for this event, and several people were fined because there were gathering in large groups not keeping social distance and probably not wearing masks.

two events left

But that’s all behind us now. The only things left before returning to normal life – if you can call this normal life during the pandemic – is the traditional fireworks at midnight on the 31st of December and ‘Cantar os Reis’ around but not necessarily on January 6. We haven’t read about any rules or regulations for the Epiphany singing, which is usually done by local choirs on church squares near the many nativities. But the fireworks is another matter. As the number of local chains of transmission of the covid-virus is increasing lately, the authorities are very worried that the fireworks will cause large concentrations of people. We have been wondering what they would come up with, especially where the National Government in Lisbon set a curfew from December 31st at 11 PM for all municipalities of Portugal. It was not clearly stated that the autonomous regions were not included in this measure.


the interests of tourism weighs heavily on the island, so the regional government kept guaranteeing that the fireworks would not be cancelled. Finally, this week, the miniter of tourism issued a statement where the rules were laid down.

watch fireworks from home?

First came the advice for people to watch the fireworks from home. If they meant viewing the real fireworks from home that would not be very realistic. If they meant viewing the fireworks on screen, it’s a different matter: it will be broadcast by RTP Madeira and it will also be visible in the internet channel Na Minha Terra. This would be nice for those who can’t be here and are to rely on the internet to see the unique event.

watch fireworks live

For those who really want to see the fireworks live, ‘pockets’ have been created where people can watch the fireworks. The pockets simply consist of squares that have been marked on the pavement to ensure social distancing. In each square, up to 5 people can stand and watch the fireworks. These 5 – or less – must be members of the same household. Masks are compulsory. Heavily armed police will be present everywhere to enforce the rules. In a statement, the police expressed the hope that people would be sensible but they also said they would not hesitate to act if necessary.

We have seen the fantastic fireworks every new year since we first arrived on the island in 2007. Therefore, we have decided to stay home and watch them on TV. Next year will be different and we will certainly resume our tradition of having dinner in town with friends on the 31st of December, followed by watching the fireworks while having a glass of bubbles. This time, we will gladly leave the limited space available for ‘live watching’ to others who may never have seen it before and came to the island especially to watch the fireworks. If you are one of them, then enjoy the spectacular show, but remember to stay safe and follow the rules. They are there for your own safety, and for all others around you.

your turn

Any thoughts or questions on this subject? Jump to the comments text field and tell us what you think. Please do not ask your questions by mailing me, as I will end up answering the same questions over and over again. Unless, of course it’s too personal for the public eye.

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By Peter Groen

Peter was born in Amsterdam in 1949. He has a history in PR and copywriting. Now, part time resident of the Island of Madeira of over 10 years, he writes about Madeira, its culture, its overwhelming nature, its food and drink, and about everything concerning travel to and on this beautiful island.


  1. Having walked along the frente do mar today I saw the squares and also…….. O circles! Yes near the CR7 hotel there are circles to stand in, God knows how many people in each but I would guess 3.

    How to keep your child confused, put them in a circle and tell them to stand in a corner 😀

  2. Thanks to everyone contributing here, Things are changing so fast and so often it is hardly possible to keep track of everything. The authorities have – at long last – altered their web information concerning the second test, and thanks to left-wing JPP (Junto pelo Povo) the fact that emergency telephone numbers of the Airport Covid operation system are not answered has been exposed, in the government-controlled Jornal da Madeira no less. We can only hope the instructions to f*cking pick up the phone when it rings has seeped through the endless Portuguese hierarchy and that receptionists (hopefully they don’t abuse medical staff for this) bl**dy well answer the phone. Non-communication seems to be the motto of anything governmental here. I have asked pretty pertinent questions about the second test, the isolation required and the feasibility of it all twice by email since the rule first came into view, but no answers yes. I therefore very much rely on the personal experiences of you all, and a am very thankful that you keep sending them. I will try and work your experiences into the article, but it may be a little while as Google and WordPress forced me to rebuild the website due to new algorithms and software. It’s in process, and ot keeps me busy. Enjoy your Christmas time here, it will be different but still a lot nicer here since you can still eat out or go for a poncha as opposed to many European countries.

    1. I can understand how frustrating it must have been for you, Peter. Going to all the lengths of writing articles and providing information for us, and then when you try to keep the information up to date and people ask you genuinely important questions which you try to find the answer to, no one will even pick up the phone or respond to emails. Thank you for everything you’ve done so far, and diligently trying so hard.

  3. Hi All,

    Regarding the 2nd PCR test for residents arriving in Madeira, some first-hand information. There was no mention of the second test on arrival at the airport. Went straight to isolation at home anyway and stayed there. Filled in the ‘How do you feel?’ bit on the Madeira Safe website every day.

    Received negative result via email early the next morning after arrival. On day three here, received email for scheduled appointment: just had the second test on day six here.

    The test is at Hospital Dr. Nélio Mendonça in Funchal. It is outside the hospital in cabins (like at the airport) close to the main entrance at the lower end of the site. My good lady and I were both allocated the same time slot of 10:30am. We arrived at 10am, joined a short queue of a couple of people and were pointed to the second set of cabins. Just needed to give our phone numbers and nothing else. We were tested and done by 10:10am, so the time slot isn’t strict, and the waiting time was virtually nothing for us.

    Walked straight back home to isolation and we are now awaiting the 2nd test results. Will post here how long that takes to come through. I know that some people have had no communication about the second test, so this experience does not translate for everyone. Just wanted to report for others what the process is when it works, because I couldn’t find any details about it anywhere else prior.

    Good luck, and a very happy Christmas to everyone


    1. Overall the system works well with just an occasional hiccup(as all systems do). Makes sense doing the tests outside the hozzy just in case someone is positive. The last thing they need is infected people going inside. If you both feel fine you can bet that you are negative.

      1. Yes, I thought the external cabins setup at the hospital made sense all round. Might be better if people could go for tests in each region of Madeira, so that folks aren’t having to come all the way in to Funchal for it. By bus if they don’t have access to a car seems counterproductive to me? Would be a head-shaking ironic backfire if the belt and braces of the second test bringing everyone to one central point on the island led directly to transmission. Overall, though, a long way ahead of other countries I could mention who have been buggering it all up at every turn.

  4. My good lady found this yesterday. Don’t know how long it has been up, but it’s the first official words I’ve seen on the 2nd PCR test:


    How is the second test scheduled?
    The second test is scheduled based on the information given in the registration at MADEIRA SAFE. For this it is important to provide updated data, namely a telephone contact and an email.
    The second test will be scheduled by the Health Authorities, by sending an email to the passenger or telephone contact.

    How do I know the result of the second test?
    The test result will be communicated to you by sending an Email or telephone contact.

    Should I do prophylactic isolation during this period?
    During the period between the 1st and 2nd tests and until the result is known, it must comply with the prophylactic isolation at home.
    All passengers must self-assess their symptoms and, if they have access to the Internet, report daily on their Madeira Safe profile.
    If you have symptoms or questions, call SRS 24 Madeira 800 24 24 20

    Came through the airport a few days ago. Organisation of testing was still very good. Was through the whole process and out in a couple of minutes. But no mention about the 2nd PCR test at all.

    1. Thank you very much, Steve. This is very helpful. I also saw that, finally, official bodies start to put on these new rules on their website. Still, what is said to people at the airport does not help to take away the doubt people have. A friend of ours who is a KLM purser and constantly travels from and to the island was told by the people at the airport test facility that no-one could oblige him to stay home until the result of the second test comes in. To be honest, I think they are now asking a lot of people. First, you have to wait for 5 to 7 days until you get the second test, and then another day – or two – to get the result. For people who have to travel for their work this is not feasible. On top of everything, the fact that the numbers you are given in case you don’t get called for a second test, or when the result of it doesn’t come, are unmanned more often than not makes this new rule very difficult to comply with. The story about phones not being answered has been picked up by the Jornal da Madeira, so let’s see if they improve that simple thing.

  5. According to reports in the British press if no agreement is reached on Brexit, then from January 1st the UK is considered to be outside of the Covid safe area of Europe and Britons will not be permitted to travel into Europe(like Americans, Canadians etc).

    This may cause difficulties for people who have booked to travel to Madeira, or other European locations, in 2021. As things stand, it looks like the EU will not budge and demand full access the British fishing waters and, consequently, no agreement will be reached.

    1. Europe has always had the impression that Boris really doesn’t want an agreement. It seems he is getting his way. As for non-EU nationals allowed to travel to the EU, there is a list of exceptions, countries with relatively low rates of covid are on it. The USA is not, Canada is. With the covid rates of the UK being as high as they are, even if things are slightly improving, it will be a while before they will be put on that list. That doesn’t mean that it’s so much better in other European countries. But banning EUI and Schengen citizens from travel within the EU and the Schengen zone is not legally possible without drastic changes in legislation. As the UK wants out of the EU and never was in Schengen, it has placed itself in a situation where their subjects are automatically banned from travel to the EU and the Schengen zone. Many British blame the EU, where they simply should have paid more attention. But they wouldn’t listen then, and they probably won’t listen now. As Bertold Brecht wrote”‘so wie man sich bettet, so liegt man. In other words: the way you make your bed, you lie in it. Having said that, the Dutch government has strongly discouraged non-necessary travel even to other EU countries. If you do, you have to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival back home. Germany is considering another lockdown putting paid to any travel at all. So the situation of Britons isn’t all that different from other nationalities in Europe. We’ll have to see how things develop. Let’s hope the imminent vaccines help. Everybody is fed up.

  6. JM Madeira reporting this:

    Paulo Alves said he was aware of several people who have been waiting for the second PCR test who never received any information. When people tried to schedule a second test by calling contact details on a pamphlet issued at the airport, there were no responses to phone calls or emails.

    Don’t know if all people have failed to get a second PCR test or just some. And personally I’m still not clear on where the second test takes place. If anyone knows of anyone who managed to get a second test OK, please let me know here.


    1. Thanks, Steve, I was aware of it. It is completely in line with what I wrote in my latest article about the christmas rules. Two friends of mine, both residents, have just returned from abroad, and I am following their eperiences closely. As soon as things are really clear, I will update the article. For now, it looks like the extra rule of needing a second test AND staying isolated until then was completely premature and, as I said, it also seems illegal as it discriminates residents and migrants returning to their families. The Portuguese constitution forbids any kind of discrimination. I’ll keep you all posted!

  7. It does seem a bit confusing. Are you sure the British government isn’t making the decisions? 🙂
    To be fair though, the UK government has certified the Pfizer vaccine as ok and the UK will be the first country in the world to start a mass vaccination programme in a few days time. It is expected the Oxford Uni/Astra Zaneca vaccine will be authorised in a few days time.

    I have my sleeve rolled up already 😉

    1. No, this government is corrupt and self-centred enough to match the British one, so creating confusion is in capable hands. Yes, I heard the UK govt has certified the Pfizer vaccine. In itself a good thing, but I hope you do realise they may have rushed it through the procedure just to show the world they are good at something at least. Hope they did not cut any corners. Otherwise, I keep wearing short-sleeved T’s to make sure and get one as soon as it is available here.

  8. Splendid. So long as one’s head has not become separated from one’s body, we are thrilled/pleased/grateful/riddled with unjustified superiority.

  9. Peter, Thank you for the update. For me Madeira has enough “assets” in its bank of protecting us during this time, I have no reason to complain. I see all the “rules” put in place as driven by “how can we protect our health care workers?” It is easy to criticize while sitting on our couches, but I for one just want our health care workers to be safe and get back to a normal life. Thanks for the history of how we got local transmission. I wondered how that happened.

    1. Don’t get me wrong, Anne, I want health workers, anyone rather, to be safe as well. But this country has a history of dictatorship, a government that is quite corrupt as it is, so the need to keep your eyes open and watch their actions will always be there. It has nothing to do with sitting on a couch. We all do what we need to do, keeping distance, avoiding crowds, wearing masks, you name it. But just because the government has gotten many things right does not mean we can or should meekly allow them to mess with constitutional rights without the correct lawful basis. Governments need anything BUT a carte blanche, as you know better than I do. If you have read my recent articles, which I think you have, you must be aware of the fact I have acclaimed the authorities often and extensively in spite of the obvious corruption going on. But if they start messing with the law they have to be exposed.

  10. Hi Peter,

    A very well written article which covers a broad scope of people and situations.
    A couple of minor things spotted on the first read:
    ‘Visitors’ paragraph: ‘already explained in an earlier article here’ – ‘here’ is not linked.
    ‘Equality’ paragraph: ‘Seen’ to ‘Seeing’
    (You can delete these bits of my comment when rectified.)
    Thank you once again

    1. Thanks for your help, Steve. After a while, you simply don’t see the typos or other errors anymore. No need to wipe your remarks, as they are simply helpful.

      1. Yes, Peter, pretty much all writers don’t pick up stuff in their own writing, which is why it can help to have an extra pair of independent eyes. Very low typo rate on your first pass though, which I commend and respect.

        I have a particular interest in what your friend arriving back from Germany encountered as you describe in your ‘Gobsmacked’ section, and would really like to hear how that plays/turns out for him. As well as the when/if response to your email. I suspect it will be a few days before there is more clarity on the where/when/whom of the second test, and will wait patiently for any updates on that. In the meantime, here are some more ////s, because I didn’t use enough of them in this paragraph.

          1. Splendid. So long as one’s head has not become separated from one’s body, we are thrilled/pleased/grateful/riddled with unjustified superiority.

            [Bugger. And QED. Please delete my post which I totally stuffed in the wrong place. My bad.]

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