The coronavirus R rate has dropped to 1.1 in a sign infections are slowing down.

The infection rate appears to have fallen from 1.7 to around 1.1 based on early results from a study by Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori.

It's the strongest evidence yet that the Rule of Six and local lockdowns are working.

R represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.

When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially.

But the director of the study said the interim findings from 80,000 participants "reinforced the need for protective measures" to help extinguish the virus.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the outbreak is "going in the wrong direction".

The PM dismissed pressure from many Tories to change strategy and focus on protecting jobs, saying he would not "throw in the sponge".

News Shopper: The coronavirus r rate has fallenThe coronavirus r rate has fallen

Critics have argued that the recent suite of measures, including local lockdowns and national restrictions such as 10pm curfews on pubs, are ineffective but are laying waste to businesses and infringing civil liberties.

While the rate of infection appears to be falling, the study, commissioned by the Department of Health, found that of the volunteers tested between September 18-26, one in 200 people had coronavirus.

It also revealed the virus to be spreading more among young people, while simultaneously laying bare the North-South divide, pointing to the North West as the epicentre of the UK's outbreak.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a new lockdown for Merseyside yesterday, with households banned from mixing indoors, as has happened in the North East.

But he told the Commons: "The study published today shows us hope that we can crack this."

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial from the School of Public Health, said: "While our latest findings show some early evidence that the growth of new cases may have slowed, suggesting efforts to control the infection are working, the prevalence of infection is the highest that we have recorded to date.

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"This reinforces the need for protective measures to limit the spread of the disease and the public's adherence to these, which will be vital to minimise further significant illness and loss of life from Covid-19."

The latest Imperial College study found 55 people per 10,000 tested positive, which is an increase on 13 people per 10,000 from the previous study between August 24 and September 7.

Extrapolating, the data suggests 411,000 people in England have the virus, meaning over one in 200 people were infected at any one time.

Findings also show that the prevalence of infection was the highest among those aged 18-24 - with one in 100 people infected - while cases increased seven-fold in those aged over 65 from 0.04 per cent to 0.29 per cent compared to the last report.

The North Nest of England, which has seen areas such as Burnley and Liverpool placed under local restrictions, had the highest levels of infection while the number of infections in London increased five-fold from 0.10 per cent to 0.49 per cent.

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The final report and findings of all 150,000 volunteers tested between September 18 and October 5 will be published next week.

Half of the volunteers who tested positive did not have symptoms at the time of testing or the week before, but it was noted that this did not mean they did not later develop symptoms.

The study also found people of Asian and black ethnicity are twice as likely to have the virus compared to white people.

Top experts have repeatedly warned that Britain needs to learn to live with Covid-19 because it will be with us for generations. Businesses fear tougher measures — similar to ones imposed in the first draconian lockdown — would cripple the economy even further.