Life for Australians in Seattle, America's most vaccinated city, is getting back to normal

It was once one of the world's most treacherous COVID-19 hotspots, but Seattle is now a city in stark contrast to Australia's locked-down capitals and the Australians living there are gutted at the difference between their lives and those of their compatriots back home.

"It's a crazy turnaround," said Daniella Phair, 32, a Melbourne lawyer who's working in Seattle for Amazon. "Here, you basically wouldn't know that coronavirus had ever happened. I think we're now the most vaccinated metro city in the country, all restrictions were lifted on June 30, we don't have to wear masks anywhere and all the restaurants are back to full capacity.

"But it's unbelievable to me what's happening in Australia. It's ridiculous to be in this situation with lockdowns and borders closed after so long. It feels like the rest of the world are leaving you behind."

For months, the families of those Australians working in Seattle, the home of so many multinationals like Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Nintendo and Boeing, watched on in horror as Washington state's largest city was ravaged by the pandemic.

Many pleaded for them to come home but, with Australia's international borders shut, it wasn't possible. Now, however, the situation has been reversed, with the Australians in Seattle horrified at what's happening back home.

"Australia does have one of the best contact-tracing and QR code enforcement systems," said Sydney émigré, Mohamed Kabiruddin, 35, who works as a product manager for Microsoft. "But had that been supplemented with high vaccination rates, Australia would have been a very different place to what it is today.

"Here, you can get vaccinated by walking into a pharmacy, a mass vaccination centre or even some of the drive-thru vaccination clinics in supermarkets or parking lots. Certainly, the confidence level here is very high and people feel the US is bouncing back to how it was pre-COVID."

Mohamed, with his wife Zaheera, both fully vaccinated, and their two-year-old son Maquil, are now living normal lives, just returning from a weekend road trip to Portland, and about to fly to San Francisco for a short getaway.

Last month, Seattle's mayor Jenny Durkan declared the city America's most vaccinated, after fully vaccinated rates hit 70 per cent for all residents aged 12 and above. More than 78 per cent of the population over 12 is partially vaccinated. 

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It's been both the commitment to getting vaccinated, and the ready availability and choice of vaccines that the Seattle-based Australians believe have been the big game-changers. Ms Phair went to a baseball game last week and saw walk-up vaccination sites at the stadium, with two tickets to the next game and a $20 Amazon voucher being offered for every jab.

Melburnian Rochelle Harris, 40, who works in corporate development for Starbucks says there are anti-vaxxers as well. "But as the first city to be hit hard by the pandemic, with rumours that hospitals were full, people took the situation seriously right away," she said.

"Mask-wearing outside the house became the norm quickly and many still wear them to supermarkets, for example, even though it's no longer strictly required. I was impressed with the fairly nimble logistics and distribution effort, with the National Guard involved, once supply of the vaccine started flowing. I had my shot at a makeshift vaccination site, inside a Target-CVS pharmacy."

Now, she together with husband Shaun Harris, 40, and children Lachlan, four, and one-year-old Skye, have been on road trips, while Mr Harris has been travelling for work, including internationally.

Dakota Hunt, from South Australia, works at a cancer research centre in Seattle. As a 24 year old, he got vaccinated as soon as he was able – fully vaccinated by the end of May, something that would be difficult for a person his age at home. That was made possible, he says, by the US Government purchasing a large number of different vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and expediting the roll-out.

"Over the last few weeks, things have felt like they are back to normal," he said. "I travelled to Las Vegas and it was packed! It proves the efficacy of the vaccines, if I could visit packed clubs and pool parties without getting infected.

"I was extremely proud of the way Australia handled the pandemic; they did an amazing job up until this point. But with lockdowns now, I'm concerned things could spiral. The vaccine rollout in Australia seems to be very slow and inefficient. It's quite frustrating because I really want to get home to visit my dad who I haven't seen in two and a half years."

Queensland business consultant Elissa Burke, in her 50s, also says life is now back to normal, with the exception of her eight-year-old daughter Beatrix who sometimes has to wear a mask.

"We go to bars and restaurants, have friends and neighbours over for drinks and dinners, have weekend getaways and travel via plane to visit friends and relatives in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Georgia," she said. "I play indoor tennis daily and have tournaments on the weekends. We also go to the cinema and will be back in theatres and seeing James Taylor in Seattle in the next few months.

"Access to the vaccine was key. It's easily available at all the big pharmacies and drug stores, the supermarket pharmacies, in Safeway, Fred Meyer and Target, in Microsoft and Amazon campuses and football and baseball arenas "

Pre-school teacher Sonja Logan, 45, agrees. Her 12-year-old daughter Imogen was vaccinated at a high school mass roll-out, while she and her husband Scott, 48, are also vaccinated. Only their 10-year-old daughter Amelia is still waiting.

"I think Australia was a bit blasé about the rolling out of the vaccine, they figured they have no cases so why roll it out?" she said.

See also: ​'Like COVID never happened': Vaccinated Aussies enjoy freedom in European summer

See also: 'Do not travel?' It's time Australian travellers were treated like adults again

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