CHAMBÉRY, France—In a wood-paneled boardroom not far from the packed intensive-care unit, the director of France’s hardest-hit hospital this fall gathered his department heads for a Covid-19 crisis meeting. The next 48 hours figured to be decisive. Just like every 48-hour stretch for the past six weeks.

There were struggling patients who needed to be put on small jets to less-crowded facilities around the country. There were nursing students on their way to help plug staff shortages. And there was the relentless high-wire…

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