IT was the best of us; it was the worst of us. Here’s Gary Neville, multi-millionaire former footballer reassuring staff at his two hotels that none will lose their jobs as a result of this health crisis and that they’ll be paid in full. He will also put his rooms and beds at the disposal of the NHS should they be required as coronavirus tightens its grip. Here, too, is the Coylumbridge Aviemore hotel, part of the Britannia Hotels group, telling loyal employees their “services are no longer required”, and that they must “vacate the hotel accommodations immediately”, thus consigning some to destitution.

Around the UK other pictures of human mercy stand alongside studies in avarice. In my local shop a young assistant is visibly distressed bearing witness to what he had seen that day as the shelves began to empty. This place has a foodbank where customers can donate goods as they wait to make their purchases. “Some people wanted to take items from it,” he said. Elsewhere, in the same village, residents known to be vulnerable are encountering daily the kindness of strangers.

And yet none of these of themselves convey heroism or malice. Those of us who have been moved to charity in these days at other times have been impelled by cruelty. This is not the time (is it ever?) to cast absolute moral judgments on the conduct of others.

Perhaps, in this time of trial, we are being granted a period of grace in which we can pause and inspect that which we consider to be important and that which can be discarded. No other generation has been offered the chance to step away from the treadmill like this. No mere political manifesto; no revolution has ever offered this opportunity: to effect radical change in how we conduct the business of living and how we discharge our responsibilities to those with whom we share this planet. An exquisite desolation clings to love locked up and unexpressed; perhaps this is the time of its amnesty.

In the course of the next three or four months, perhaps longer, those of us accustomed to comfort and certainty will get to experience a little of what it feels like to travel without them; to live a life more fragile; to encounter vulnerability. In these days perhaps we will walk a distance in the shoes of those less fortunate and feel something of their daily challenges. After this storm has abated most of us will resume consumption and breathe easily again. We will make our plans and count our options once more.

Coronavirus has made us contemplate our mortality as we see the shadow of death pass close by. Those whom society has made peripheral will wonder what all the fuss was about. This contagion is merely one of many which menace them each day. They were at-risk before this virus and will remain so when it has passed.

And yet a measure of hope has emerged from this apocalypse and permits us to be optimistic about the future. Who knew that Boris Johnson and his government could so easily channel their inner Jeremy Corbyn? If the Daily Mail had ever suspected that the Prime Minister harboured instincts such as those he’s exhibited this last week they would have put him in the stocks they bring out for dangerous lefties.

Mr Johnson and his acolytes who had all been schooled in the ruthless doctrines of Margaret Thatcher have always proclaimed the absolute hegemony of the free market. Let the dice roll, loaded as they are, and fall where they may. Let the fittest survive and the strongest prevail. Let the weak be content to rely on the whims of shareholders.

Confronted by the most terrifying peacetime threat to our way of life Mr Johnson had a choice to make: the implacable rigours of monetarism and the free market or pure, unfettered Socialism. Mr Johnson is an educated man and has chosen wisely: it had to be state intervention on the grand scale. When competition law is suspended to permit the big supermarket chains to work together for the greatest benefit of staff and customers you know that the Prime Minister has keyed in the Damascus post-code to his satnav.

The candles on the Marxist birthday cake are being turned on one by one: mortgage holidays; wage top-ups; tax relief; state subsidies and a £340bn money-tree. The money, it seems, was there all along: we just needed the rude nudge of a lethal pandemic to make ministers spend it the right way. That which has the potential to benefit the many and not a mere few is the only moral choice to make for any government entrusted with saving lives rather than protecting fortunes.

It had to operate on the assumption that those who say they are in crisis are genuinely so and not on the suspicion that they are lying; this being the default position of the DWP. The Prime Minister knows that capitalism and the free market are impotent when you are engaged in a struggle to keep people alive, no matter the cost. The marketplace was always the favoured instrument of the right to determine who gets to live or die; who gets rich and who must beg. Now it has been rendered impotent. When a virus moves as quickly as this one does there’s simply no time to erect barriers between the needy and the state’s largesse.

Mr Johnson may even be wondering if it might have been better if he had lost the election and been spared these tribulations. The rest of us, though, must wish him well, pray for his good leadership and encourage him to keep making these moral choices. We must also acknowledge the devotion and courage of all our front-line health and care workers and be ashamed at how little we pay them. Our salvation is in their hands and we must urge the Prime Minister to reward them accordingly.

In the next four months we will have our own choice to make: to return to an existence where the needs of a gilded and privileged few are prized above all else. Or to ensure that the compassion unlocked by this mortal threat comes to define our future.