Madeira Life under Lockdown

stay home. The lockdown's main requirement.

Many of our friends overseas have been wondering how we are, and how we cope with life on Madeira under lockdown, which is, in practice, what the state of emergency entails. Frankly, it really looks like panic and sensationalism have come to a halt since we have received clear rules that belong to the state of emergency, that was officially declared the day before yesterday. Where it all felt very threatening at first, everything has calmed down. Or maybe, just in my head, but since I am the author of this article, I think I’ll stick to that.

frantic weeks

Leading up to the declaration of the state of emergency, which in reality means that the island is practically in lockdown, we have been living a couple of frantic weeks. The news came by the hour, people panicked, some started stockpiling food – though we really haven’t seen any of that in our quiet West of Madeira. On top of all that, we still had guests during the last couple of weeks. First Noud’s niece Suzanne, who was here on her own, leaving her husband and their young son in the Netherlands, and after her Ben and Ellen arrived, who are looking to settle in our little paradise and have spent three months here, hopping between different addresses in order to determine the best spot on the island to settle. If we were happy to see Suzanne able to leave on the plane she was supposed to leave on, things got a little more complicated for Ben and Ellen, as they weren’t due to leave until the end of March. But work was waiting in the Netherlands, and sticking to their original flights would have meant taking the risk of not getting back home when the time came. They became quite nervous and had ever more questions no-one knew the answer to. Finally, they managed to book a direct flight to Amsterdam and they left yesterday. We do not normally utter our relief at the departure of guests, but frankly, we felt a bit responsible for them, even if technically we weren’t and we felt life complicated enough without the added obligation to look after guests. On top of that, the ministry of tourism of Madeira kept bombarding us with questionnaires about the number of guests as they wanted to know how many tourists there are on the island and new bulletins in legal Portuguese with old rules repeated over and over but termed differently. Quite maddening and a lot of effort.

Clarity about the state of emergency

After the relief of having no responsibility but for ourselves, the next relief came. It may sound like a contradiction, but yesterday, the conditions of the lockdown were published officially. It came as a decree by the Portuguese government, and it turned into law last midnight. It confirmed most things we already knew (most information we get comes from the Diario de Notícias and from the Jornal da Madeira, invariably perfectly selected by our friend Toby who owns the best English news blog about Madeira, Madeira Island News. He and we have found a very good way of working together: he scans all the news media permanently and publishes everything relevant in his blog as he has always done. I do not do this, it only would duplicate his content. I write a little more in-depth articles, and I combine information out of the many blog posts he publishes, and I usually wait until sensationalism has died down and possibly fake news has been identified. Once my article is online, he puts a link in his news blog, resulting in a specific circle of readers who want some more background information.

Hence, my ‘synopsis’ of the State of Emergency conditions

All is said and done

Now, we have a feeling that all is said and done, really. You can tell from the slowing down of the frantic news items, the lack of new restrictions and the general feeling of calm and serenity. Obviously, this is much helped by the empty roads and streets, the closed bars and restaurants and the lack of hordes trying to raid the shops.

We have gone out three times since the state of emergency was declared. All occasions were for food shopping. We have seen the situation in both the larger Calheta supermarket Pingo Doce and in smaller local shops. As I have told you before, there is a limit to the maximum number of customers that are allowed to enter a shop at one time. This number is in relation to the size of the shop. This is enforced, the shop manager has been made responsible for this to be carried out as per the state of emergency conditions. But in practice, people start learning to be calm, to wait for their turn in a quiet queue, keeping 2 meters distance (another condition) and chat quietly with others waiting. This morning we went to the market. This is a farmers market and is held every Sunday. Not sure if the market would be closed down, Noud did a Facebook chat with our ‘Presidente’, the mayor of our village Fajã da Ovelha, who promptly answered (don’t try this at home) and told us that yes, it would be open. We went early, and we found two ladies at the entrance, one telling us to wash our hands at the outside washbasin – and apologising the water was very cold – a second one holding a roll of paper towels. They were so apologetic it almost brought me to tears. So much sweetness among the misery. The market was well stocked, the things that weren’t there were things like cakes and luxury fruit, but all essentials were there like always. including eggs.

In the weeks running up to the state of emergency, tourists were urged to leave the island. We may not be tourists, but anyone can see from a mile away we aren’t Portuguese. In some other countries I know, this would have resulted in a hostile ‘foreigners RAUS’ atmosphere, especially since the first confirmed case of covid-19 infection was a Dutch lady visiting the island. Not here. People remain sweet as ever, apologising for any inconvenience and grateful you buy their produce. In other words: we feel very safe here. We aren’t as naive to think we can’t get the virus here, but we can see that the lockdown is enforced where necessary, police have started to stop cars and ask what the purpose is of their displacement. If your story isn’t plausible you are sent back home. And over the motorways and express roads, the matrix signs urge you to stay at home with alternating texts ‘fique em casa’ and ‘stay at home’. No hardship at present. It’s raining cats and dogs, the plants love it and bush fires have come to an end for now.

stay home. The lockdown's main requirement.

should we stay or should we go?

We have booked flights to the Netherlands early May. Of course, we don’t know if these flights will still go by then and frankly, we don’t care much. If we can’t go, we will simply stay. We are in the privileged position that we can choose to stay or to go, available flights permitting. . If the guests that booked our house this summer can travel here, we’ll simply evacuate the house and stay somewhere else on the island, we have done that before and we can do it again if we must.

a nagging thought

Like many others must have had, there is a thought nagging at the back of my mind. This morning I realised what it was when I received a message from my cousin Jelle with the link to a video. When I played it, I realised what it was. And, knowing how horrible the virus is, how many people are devastated by it and see their lives altered beyond belief, I am still going to share it with you.

A lot to think about. And before this is all over and people pick up their lives again the way it was, stop and think. We have, and we have decided, again, to count our blessings.

On a lighter note, I was pleasantly surprised and very proud, of the well known Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra that reached out and let us know that a lot is possible if we use the creativity that has been given to us! Switch on your sound and enjoy. The piece is appropriately called ‘Alle Menschen Werden Brüder’ – all people become brothers.

I shall continue to keep you informed about the way things develop. if you like to read my articles, make sure and subscribe, as Tobi will not publish all my articles, only the ones relevant to his Madeira Island News blog and its readers.


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. Hi Peter ,
    I have a number of friends in Madeira who work at the Pestana Carlton Hotels ,what can you tell me about the situation , are they all redundant now , it has always been said places like Madeira, Ibiza, The Canaries etc would collapse if the tourists left and stayed at home to holiday never mind this present disaster, with such financial devastating results pending WILL Madeira ever recover ?

    1. Hi Pete,
      I am not an expert in this matter. However, I do know there is a procedure for people who have a permanent employment contract (so no seasonal or temporary staff) which could best be termed as ‘lay-off’. They receive a salary of 70% of their normal salary, with a maximum of €1990 and a minimum of €665. As you can’t spend anything apart from food shopping, this really is enough to tide you over, as prices here are very friendly. If you live in social housing, owned by the government, you are also exempt from paying rent for three months.
      As for your last question, only the future can tell. But I can tell you this: the Madeirans are a resilient people. They are used to hardships, as the fast recovery from the financial crises shows. Most have their own little plot of land, ar someone in the family has, many have chickens or rabbits, so the Madeirans in rural areas will always be self-sufficient where food is concerned. I won’t tell you there won’t be suffering, because there will, but I am convinced Madeira will recover, and faster than many other regions in the world.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. We were in the paradise that is Madeira only a month ago, but it feels like a lifetime. Today the U.K. has finally imposed a strict lockdown so I am sure the country will follow you by calming down and accepting the necessity of these measures. Hope to be back next year!

    1. It seems like an era gone by, Carl. Glad you were able to enjoy this beautiful island under better circumstances. Stay safe and come back to us in better days, which will certainly come!

  3. That was lovely music. The effort the musicians put in very much appreciated. I am due to visit in September and November all being well and we are able to travel from England. Love to Madeira.

    1. September should work, Joyce. With a little bit of luck, you will be able to visit the Festival da Flor. And the orchestra members, it’s like I said, all is about being creative, we can’t let this misery get the better of us. Stay safe!

    1. Yes, this has been cancelled, so sad, but it will be bigger & better in 2021.. Best Wishes to everyone on this beautiful island.

    1. Thank you, James. I will, as long as there is the need for some tuned down information and forb some reassurance. When all this has passed, I shall return to more fun stuff, but for now, I think that anyone writing stuff has a responsibility towards readers with less access to information.

    1. Hi Duda, you are most welcome. I will keep this up as long as necessary before returning to more fun stuff. It’s such a shame we cannot do walks with our group of friends now. It can’t be easy to be on your own and not being able to go out and see people. Hope you are well. At least we have internet and social media! Stay safe!

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