(updated on November 8th, 2020)
First of all: don't worry!
The “corona” situation in Portugal and especially the Algarve is quite good compared to the rest of Europe. See the overview below (figures per 1 million inhabitants, so the numbers are comparable).
So you are probably better off in Portugal, and certainly in the Algarve, than at home. And knowing what happened since March 2020, that will remain so. From the very beginning, Portugal has been quick to take clear and effective measures. As a result, the Portuguese figures have always been better than those of many other European countries. It helps that Portugal tests a lot. Cumulatively, a quarter of the Portuguese population has now been tested. Portugal had sufficient test capacity from the start and still has.
Spend the winter in Portugal?
A recent study among winter guests showed that winter-stays increase rather than decrease because of the corona issue. A quarter of the usual winter guests plan to stay longer than usual in Portugal as a result of corona. This is completely understandable given the figures above. Also people feel that the Portuguese are taking corona measures more seriously. Winter guests therefore feel safer in Portugal. Obviously the clean air and low population density also play an important role.
Impact of summer tourism
Summer tourism has not affected the Algarve's corona figures. On vacation, people are in a natural way in a single bubble. At home, almost every day the work bubble is mixed with the family bubble and after that the leisure bubble. Every day, and that for every 4 or 5 people per family. If the family goes on vacation for two weeks, this mixing behavior pauses. Even if the family plans a Jeep safari or any other excusrion, they usually will do that with the family. Holidays therefore prove to be an extremely effective way of social distancing.
You have to take into account the trip. Flying is no problem at all. Everything at the airports is perfectly organized and planes are a very corona-safe means of transport due to the good ventilation. When you drive over, you have to plan your stops well. Avoid large cities such as Paris and Madrid because corona restrictions are most likely to happen there. But probably you were already not planning on visiting these big cities. There are plenty of rural hotels in France and Spain. Do not worry about the return journey. The practice of last spring showed that when you are on your way home, you can pass through every possible closed border without any problems. And it is not expected that borders will be closed. Even if there is a second wave, countries are now much better prepared than half a year ago.
Even if you have travel insurance, it still makes sense to bring your European Health Card (EHIC) with you on holidays. With this card you can use the Portuguese National Health System as if you were a Portuguese resident.
Keep your distance and wash your hands
In Portugal, it is recommended to keep two meters distance from people who do not belong to your household everywhere. And of course you should wash your hands as often as possible in Portugal too ...
Face masks in Portugal are called “máscara” (singular) or “máscaras” (plural). They are mandatory in shops, on public transport, in restaurants, basically everywhere you are inside with other people (who do not belong to your household). Since October 15th it is also advised to wear the mask outdoors, especially in places where it gets crowded (for example shopping streets). You can use homemade masks, you can also buy masks in the supermarket or pharmacy. It is wise to already bring some masks from home, because you will also need them during your trip.
In Portugal you will also encounter “viseiras”, transparent face shields that are attached to the forehead with a strap. Store staff use them a lot, private individuals can also use them. By law a face mask is no longer mandatory when using a face shield, but doctors advise to use a mask anyway since it is more effective than a shield.
You will find hand-gels everywhere, dispensers with a liquid or gel with 70% alcohol. These work very well for disinfection. You can also buy this gel in small bottles at the supermarket or pharmacy, so that you have it with you at all times. If you bring it from home, remember that (as far as I know) they is a maximum of 100 milliliters per container in your hand luggage on the plane.
On arrival at Faro Airport a temperature check is done, this is done remotely so you will notice little or nothing. You will have to use your facemask everywhere in the airport building. Toilets are accessible as usual and there are hand sanitizers with gel available.
Taxi, transfers and public transport
In a taxi and also in a private transfer, the front seat next to the driver may not be used. A maximum of 2/3 of the remaining places in the vehicle may be used. In practival terms this means that the maximum number of passengers in a regular taxi is two. In a van more of course. And obviously: you will have to use your facemask inside. Also in public transport applies: always wear a face mask.
You can use your car with members of your family just as you would at home. This also goes for a rental car. And you don't have to wear a mask.
A face mask is mandatory in the supermarket. You can go shopping with several family members, but you must keep 2 meters distance from other people. The number of people in the supermarket is monitored. If you want to find the supermarket at its quietest, go early at opening time (often as early as 8 am) or very late just before closing time (often until 10 pm, the hípermercados sometimes even later). In the winter period, the supermarkets are of course rarely or never very busy. At your neighborhood minimercado it may happen that you have to wait outside until the previous customer is done. Some larger supermarkets have put up traffic lights to control the crowds. It is almost always possible or even mandatory to disinfect your hands with gel at the entrance.
The maximum group size is 5 persons. This also goes for restaurants and terraces.
Restaurants, cafes and terraces
Tables must be 2 meters apart unless a barrier is made between them. You can only sit at a table with your housemates. When you are seated you do not have to wear a mask, but when you walk around (to the table or to the toilet) you do. Outside on the terrace no masks are required. Restaurant staff must adhere to comprehensive hygiene measures. For example, a printed menu must be disinfected or destroyed after each use. It may therefore happen that there is no printed menu but have to choose from a wall sign. Terraces are ideal, it is recommended to eat and drink outside as much as possible when you go to a restaurant. After all, the ventilation is better there.
As of September 15, 2020, alcohol may no longer be sold after 8 pm, not in cafes and not in the supermarket. The only exception is in a restaurant with a meal, it is allowed up to 1 am. Drinking alcohol in public is also prohibited. These measures are aimed at keeping young people and students in check, in order to curb the spread of corona. It is not yet known how long this measure will continue to apply.
Since September 15, 2020, shops are not allowed to open before 10 a.m. (exception: food vendors are allowed earlier). The purpose of this measure is to spread the crowds in public transport. The mayor of each municipality may then decide when shops must close, between 8 pm and 11 pm. Restaurants and cafés can stay open until 1 am.
You are not allowed to play games such as football, badminton, frisbee and such on the beach. No throwing or kicking or knocking things away. Not even in the water and not with the dog (dogs must always be on a leash anyway). You also have to keep your distance on the beach, but of course in winter that is easy.
It is very well possible to find a closed door of a restaurant or shop this winter. Due to the restrictions in terms of distance between people and tables, it is simply not profitable for some to open. But many businesses will be open this winter, precisely because they want to compensate for a very mediocre summer season.
There is an App available for your smartphone (also in English). Portuguese citizens are advised to download and use it.
An important reason for Portugal doing so well in the corona statistics is that citizens are complying with the rules. In a general sense, the Portuguese are quite law-abiding. So if you are a guest here, stick to the rules please. Corona fines are sky-high for entrepreneurs, so they certainly comply with the rules. As of October 15th fines for persons were raised and checks were intensified.
Do you think you have corona symptoms? Do you want certainty? Via the national health number you can quickly arrange a corona test, in principle for free (don't forget your EHIC card): (+351) 808 24 24 24. They speak Portuguese and English (key 9).
Are you in the Algarve and do you prefer to speak with an international GP? Then contact doctor Heino Folmer of the Orange Medical Center (English, Dutch and German speaking) in Albufeira, www.orangemedicalcentre.com, telephone (+351) 289 508 055. He will arrange the test for you and help you further (you will receive an invoice to claim back your payment from your travel insurance).
In Portugal, any citizen who wishes so can take a corona test for free, and it has been that way since the very beginning. There has always been plenty of testing capacity. This is the basis of the successful corona approach in Portugal.
State of emergency
From november 9th onwards Portugal is formally in "estado de emergência", the state of emergency. This has little impact, the president called it a very limited version. Purpose is mainly to give the government some extra powers at hand. It does comprise a curfew in the 121 municipalities with a higher infection rate (see below)
Special measures from November 4th onwards for Lisbon, Porto, en some other municipalities
From November 4th onwards, 121 municiplaities have tighter rules. Restaurants have to close latest 10.30PM and people are advised to stay home as much as possible. From November 9th these municipalities also have a curfew, on weekdays from 11PM-05AM and in the weekend from 1PM (!)-06AM (yes that are 17 consecutive hours9. In the Algarve only the small municipality of São Bras de Alportel has these rules. Click here for a full list of those 121 municipalities: https://winterinalgarve.com/blog/what-changes-on-november-4th-2020.html
This document represents the status as of November 8, 2020. I have made it to the best of my knowledge and conscience, but I cannot accept responsibility for any omissions, errors or changes.
Copyright all texts and photos: Cees Groenewegen/WinterInAlgarve
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