Writers have been ransacking the Brainy Quotes website looking for inspiration for their coronavirus think pieces. But there is really only one that matters: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Franklin D Roosevelt’s epigram is appropriate because it is as disingenuous as it is paradoxical.

Clearly, you can’t actually fear “fear” – that is a contradiction in terms. What it is really saying is that s*** happens and you just have to live with it. “Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

The most famous quote of the 20th century is an injunction to abandon the precautionary principle and live dangerously. Are we capable of this in the age of social media and risk aversion?

Can we really banish fear from the management of this pandemic? As a society, are we ready to accept that the Government may have to make decisions that kill some people in the cause of defeating this enemy?

There is no strategy for coping with coronavirus that I can see which does not involve some lives being lost now in order for lives to be saved later on. We can keep this virus locked down for a while, but eventually we are going to have to let the beast loose again.

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Some experts are saying we should open the schools first. That will probably be the first “baby step” the Government will take to ease restrictions on normal life. But that will surely mean accelerated transmission of the virus using schoolchildren as a vector.

It is likely to lead to more short-term deaths, not perhaps among the children (though that can’t be ruled out) but among the family members, especially older people, they may come into contact with. Any strategy for easing lockdown on a geographical or age-related basis will have a similar effect.

But eventually this Government is going to have to weigh up the balance between the lives lost from coronavirus and the lives lost from combating coronavirus. I don’t just mean those lost through an economic depression, but the lives lost through diseases like cancer and heart disease that have taken a back seat while the NHS has focused on Covid-19. In Scotland, the recent unexpected increase in non-coronavirus deaths is actually greater than the number who have died from the pandemic.

As soon as people start socialising again – and eventually they must be allowed out to parks and workplaces – then the disease will resume its long march through the population. Only when around 60% of us are immune, through exposure to the disease, will it naturally die out. But we are a very long way from herd immunity. And as we saw with the furious row last month over the very use of that phrase, the Government will be intensely cautious about appearing to be returning to herd immunity – even though it has always been there in the background. Keyboard warriors, who have been in remission since Boris Johnson entered intensive care, will be back again accusing the Government of social Darwinism, murdering old people, putting profits before people.

Eventually, someone will have to take the fearmongers on, as Roosevelt did in the 1930s. Some essentially meaningless phrase will have to be deployed to reconcile us collectively with the ugly truth: that people will die – possibly even us. We are anyway becoming habituated to mortality – much as during the last war.

Did you ever imagine we could take nearly 1,000 deaths a day “on the chin” to coin a phrase? Last week, that number came and went with hardly a murmur. Yet when Italy broke that barrier last month it was considered deeply shocking and an intolerable failure of governance.

Of course, the Government will not talk publicly about lifting lockdown until the death rate is a long way past the peak. But it is talking about little else in private. Ministers know they will have to move eventually. But I’m not entirely sure that this Government can be expected to take this decision on its own.

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Why? Because it will be punished even if it makes the right call. If the numbers spike up again, as they probably will, the Conservatives will not be forgiven. There is therefore every incentive for the Government to avoid taking any decision at all, which would be the worst outcome.

This is one of the reasons why a government of national unity might make sense right now, even though it is a democratic abomination. Making Sir Keir Starmer Deputy Prime Minister, like Attlee during the war, would be a huge risk for Boris Johnson, not least because the Labour leader might very well outshine him. But it would be worth it to have the Opposition buy into whichever of the unacceptable alternatives is finally adopted.

It is futile to talk of an exit strategy. The only exit strategy is a vaccine and that won’t happen for 18 months to two years, if ever. There may be some therapy that will help, like President Trump’s much-touted anti-malarial medicine, hydroxychloroquine – but no-one is counting on it.

Antibody testing has been seen as the get-out-of-jail-free card, since testing vast numbers of people might allow those who have acquired herd immunity to get back to work. But none of the antibody tests appear to work. This has been one of the great false dawns of the pandemic.

There had also been hopes that the disease might quietly have spread widely across the population already to near herd levels. Studies in Iceland suggested that 50% of carriers show no symptoms. But research in Germany suggests the disease has not spread very far at all.

There will clearly be mass testing and contact tracing, probably by mobile phone app, as soon as that is possible. This will be highly invasive of civil liberty since it involves not only the closing of borders, but almost total surveillance of the civilian population. In China, it meant enforced quarantine of entire communities, reportedly at gunpoint.

Some academics here are already contemplating going the full Orwell. Devi Sridhar, professor of global health at Edinburgh University, thinks that the virus could yet be eliminated by contact tracing and quarantine. But most scientists are sceptical about hyper-lockdown. They think it only delays the transmission. As Singapore has discovered, as soon as you lift the restrictions, the disease starts spreading again.

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However, New Zealand, under its charismatic leader Jacinda Ardern, seems determined to go down the elimination route. It’s not very liberal, since it means keeping the borders closed, possibly for many years, and quarantining the rest of the world. But who knows: this ultra-nationalist solution might find a lot of support in Brexit Britain.

Our Government will probably try to implement a bit of everything. Slinging chloroquine if it works; testing even when it doesn’t quite work. We’ll have a policeman in our mobile phones and possibly masks at work.

We will put up with it because this seems to be the only way to keep the disease under some kind of control. The Government can only keep lockdown going for a few months. Thereafter we will just have to keep calm and carry on. Because the contagion of fear is worse than the fear of contagion.