Now, many Italians are taking to social media to warn the rest of the world to learn from their mistakes before it's too late.
Italians from all backgrounds have urged others to stop underestimating a disease which is stretching northern Italy's healthcare system to the limit.
Watching other countries reach our measures, slowly, one by one. Like why? Act fast, act together, stop it earlier. Every day you aren't isolating you are infecting more people. Or being infected. #coronapocolypse #coronavirushasnoborder #COVIDー19
— Lylion (@_lilyon_) March 16, 2020
“I want to warn you so that you don't face what we are facing here,” Italian blogger Marco Cartasegna told his 386,500 followers on Instagram.
“Please take advantage of our example and act now to prevent a huge crisis in your countries,” he said.
“Protect yourselves, I beg you. Don't listen to those who say it's not serious,” Italian mother Linda Maresca wrote on Twiitter.
While Italy has been battling the outbreak for nearly a month, and now has over 31,000 cases and more than 2,500 victims, other countries have only recently been forced into taking action.
France and Spain have recently imposed lockdowns, while Belgium and Germany have ordered their citizens to stay at home, but others like Britain and the US have faced criticism for delaying anti-coronavirus measures.
While Italy imposed a localised lockdown immediately after its first deaths, people outside of the “red zone” carried on going to bars and discos, eating meals at crowded restaurants, and hugging and kissing each other despite government advice telling them to limit social contact.
As reality hit home, Italians watched in horror as some in other countries shrugged it off as “just a case of the flu” – as some in Italy had done weeks earlier.
“For other countries affected by COVID-19: Your hospitals won't hold. Your doctors will be exhausted,” Twitter user Lylion wrote on Wednesday.
The president of the European Commission admitted Wednesday that political leaders in the EU had “underestimated” the magnitude of the danger posed by the coronavirus.
“My Italian friends and colleagues (who work abroad) agree”, tweeted user David Giovinazzo, who was currently in Italy but said he worked at the EU's diplomatic service in Brussels.
“Paradoxically, we feel safer in Italy at the moment,” he said.
Many of The Local's readers have also commented that they feel safer in Italy than they would back home in the UK or US.
Top Italian health expert Nino Cartabellota told The Local in a recent interview that other countries should follow Italy's lead – immediately.
“The data shows that the majority of European countries are about to face a battle identical to the Italian one. The surge in cases in France, Germany and Spain follows the same trend as in Italy. It's just 7-8 days behind.”
“The more promptly containment measures are implemented, the more effective they are,” he added. “Considering this, it's necessary to act immediately, because tomorrow will already be late.”
“Other European countries should learn from Italy's experience – and mistakes.”