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 madeirasafe.com 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
update on new year’s fireworks
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.
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