Health Minister Chris Fearne has tested positive for COVID-19 days after celebrating the general election result in a packed counting hall and hours after shaking the hand of the prime minister during a swearing-in ceremony.

Writing on Facebook, the deputy prime minister said he tested positive after being tested earlier on Thursday. He said he is in quarantine and will continue working virtually.

Fearne was among cabinet members and their family gathered at the Palace in Valletta on Wednesday for a swearing-in ceremony.

At one point, he shook the hand of the prime minister in front of the president. None of the three were wearing masks.

A maskless Chris Fearne shakes hands with Prime Minister Robert Abela after being sworn in as minister by President George Vella on Wednesday. Photo: Jonathan BorgA maskless Chris Fearne shakes hands with Prime Minister Robert Abela after being sworn in as minister by President George Vella on Wednesday. Photo: Jonathan Borg

On Sunday, the deputy prime minister was pictured carried aloft on supporters' shoulders as a packed counting hall celebrated Labour's massive victory in the 2022 general election. 

It is not clear if any other cabinet members have tested positive for the virus at this stage. Prime Minister Robert Abela is due to meet Pope Francis on Saturday during his papal visit to Malta. 

According to health ministry guidelines, close contacts of a COVID-19 case who are fully vaccinated, including with a booster dose do not have to self isolate. 

Fearne's result also explains why he was not deputising for Prime Minister Robert Abela at the official Freedom Day ceremony on Thursday. The government was represented instead by Culture Minister Owen Bonnici.

Times of Malta is informed that many people who were at the counting hall on Sunday had applied for COVID-19 tests after feeling unwell. 

Malta recorded 760 new cases of the virus on Thursday, an 11-week high amid a fresh COVID-19 wave of infections, fuelled by gatherings, colder weather and the highly contagious subvariant of Omicron that is dominant in the country.  

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