SYDNEY (AFP) - Trucks laden with thousands of beer kegs headed to Australia's remote Northern Territory on Friday (May 8) as pubs there prepare to reopen after a weeks-long virus shutdown.
With the fewest cases of Covid-19 of any of Australia's states and territories, the region has authorised pubs to serve drinkers inside their doors from May 15.
"I understand there's a whole bunch of kegs on their way to Darwin as we speak, running up the highway - much eagerly anticipated, I'm sure," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told media in Canberra.
On Thursday, Northern Territory chief minister Michael Gunner welcomed the first shipment of 175,000 litres of "the good stuff".
"The beers are here and the jobs are back," Mr Gunner said at a press conference surrounded by some freshly delivered cases.
The beer market has dipped 20 per cent since the lockdown with the loss of keg sales hitting brewers and pubs hard, said Lion Beer Australia - one of the largest brewers in the country.
"March 23 was the most devastating and soul-destroying day our industry has ever experienced," the firm's Managing Director James Brindley said of the day pubs and restaurants across Australia were ordered closed as part of lockdown restrictions.
"For many of us, being able to get back to the local and have a beer with our mates is the morale boost that we've all been waiting for," he said.
Some social distancing measures will remain in the Northern Territory, with drinkers required to eat a meal and limited to two hours in a venue.
But in a national plan outlined by the prime minister on Friday, other regions may have to wait a while before they can also head to a pub, as the decision to reopen is up to individual states.
"They've all got different starting points. The whole country has the same end-point - to get to a Covid-safe economy," Mr Morrison said, as he outlined a path out of restrictions.
Virus cases in the nation have slowed in past weeks, with close to 7,000 confirmed cases and 97 deaths connected to Covid-19 since the pandemic began.
The sparsely populated Northern Territory has registered just 30 cases and no deaths.