After nearly two years of effectively keeping the pandemic under control, Australia finds itself beset by the Omicron variant. New cases in the country have been kept under 2,500 through 2021, but numbers have increased sharply in the new year, breaking 100,000 daily new cases. Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) are incredibly difficult to come by, all the while Australia had a very public visa dispute with world’s best tennis player and noted anti-vaxxer Novak Djokavic.

It is against this backdrop of heightened COVID tensions that one Australian coffee company finds themselves facing backlash. Melbourne’s St. Ali is drawing criticism for offering two free RATs with the purchase of $160 or more from the company’s website.

As reported by the Guardian, the offer was made via text to “special VIP customers.” The message, which has made the rounds online, states in part, “We’ve been fortunate to secure a limited number of Rapid Antigen Tests for our staff, families and friends. As a special VIP customer, we’d like to extend these to you too.” In order to receive the tests, the VIPs needed to spend $160+ at the St. Ali (stylized ST. ALi) webshop.

st ali rat
via Reddit user oregon33

During the pandemic, St. Ali’s webshop pivoted to include alcohol, deli offerings, pantry items like mustard, pickles, eggs, even caviar, and COVID necessities including “pulse oximeters, hand sanitizer, and contactless thermometers.” So while the $160 sticker needn’t be spent entirely on coffee, the brand is nonethless facing a backlash for what some Australians are calling a “disgusting” promotion, per BuzzFeed.

Some have called for a boycott of St. Ali, while others have taken to Google to leave one-star reviews.

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Within a matter of hours, St. Ali owner Salvatore Malatesta issued an apology via text for the promotion. It read:

We recently procured some Rapid Antigen Tests for our staff and their family, we had some surplus supply, so we sent a text message to some of our subscribers offering two free Rapid Antigen Tests with a minimum order value.

We believed this was a way of supporting our customers who purchased from us regularly, but the message has been lost. We can see in hindsight it was inappropriate.

We are very sorry.

The company also committed to donating any additional tests they receive to the Father Bob Maguire Foundation, a South Melbourne charity, to distribute as they see fit. For many, though, the apology was too little, too late. Some have gone so far as to refer to it as a non-apology and as an apology “for being caught,” alleging that the company was trying to “profit off of [customers’] desperation.”

Per 7 News, in Victoria—the Australian state in which Melbourne resides—a portion of the three million Rapid Antigen Tests disbursed by the state government are available for free at COVID testing sites. Victoria has ordered another 41 million more that have yet to arrive.

This story is developing…

Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.

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