THE South Africa variant of the coronavirus has yet been identified in Dorset, according to health officials.

A spokesman for Public Health Dorset said they were "not aware" of any cases of the B.1.351 variant, which studies have shown can partly evade natural and vaccine-induced immunity, in the county.

But they warned it was “a rapidly changing situation”.

The variant is dominant in South Africa and has been identified in dozens of countries, including the UK.

Health minister Edward Argar said at least 147 cases had been confirmed across the country and that testing efforts had been expanded in these areas in response.

The ability of the variant to partly evade immunity has prompted concerns it could undermine vaccination efforts.

On Sunday, South Africa halted its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a study found it offered “minimal protection” against mild illness.

However, the study was small and the participants relatively young. This has limited its statistical confidence.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Argar said the variant needed to be taken “very seriously” but said there was no evidence to show the jab was not effective at preventing serious cases.

He added that the situation in the UK was different with the variant first identified in Kent still being dominant.

And vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said jabs approved for use here appeared to work well against it.

Despite this, efforts to control the spread of the B.1.351 variant are being stepped up with “surge testing” being carried out in areas it has been identified, including Bristol and South Gloucestershire in the South West.

A spokesman for Public Health Dorset said there were no cases of it in Dorset “as far as we are currently aware” but warned it was “a rapidly changing situation”.

And the body is urging people to continue to follow the guidance aimed at limiting spread of the virus with the infection rate in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole still above the England average and with hundreds of people still in the county’s hospitals.