European business leaders have warned that Hong Kong's stringent quarantine measures have left its residents "indefinitely trapped" in the city, threatening its status as an international business centre.
In a rare open letter to chief executive Carrie Lam on Thursday, the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said the city's most recent hardening of measures for inbound travellers were "out of proportion" and a "significant setback".
The Chinese financial hub maintains some of the strictest quarantine rules in the world, an approach that has kept virus cases low but left most residents cut off from the rest of the world for the past 18 months.
Arrivals from high-risk countries have to stay in hotel quarantine for 21 days, while for lower-risk countries that drops to seven days followed by another seven days of self-monitoring.
Last week, the authorities announced that a brief flirtation with relaxing some of these rules had to be scrapped.
The decision threw travel plans of many into disarray towards the end of the summer holidays, sparked a shortage of hotel rooms and caused growing frustration within the business community.
"We are of the view that Hong Kong must open itself sooner rather than later or this new quarantine regime could lead many in the international community to question if they want to remain indefinitely trapped in Hong Kong when the rest of the world is moving on," Frederik Gollob, chairman of the chamber's board of directors wrote in the letter.
"This concern amongst the international business community could pose, undoubtedly, a growing threat to Hong Kong's status as an international business centre."
He added that while new virus variants were coming in, vaccination had helped lower the risk of extreme cases and many countries had made plans to treat the crisis as endemic.
He urged the government to understand the "new normal" and come up with a "clear exit strategy" so as to provide a basis to restore confidence and enable businesses to plan ahead.
Leaders have been pursuing a "zero infection" strategy in hope of stamping out the disease in the city but its ability to open up has been hampered by a poor vaccination drive.
With only 45 percent of the population fully inoculated, the city has one of the lowest take-up rates in the developed world, despite securing more than enough jabs for the whole population.
On Thursday, Hong Kong and Singapore announced that a previously postponed plan to create a travel bubble between the two cities had been permanently scrapped.
The government said the plan was shelved because Singapore, which has a much higher vaccine take-up, was now moving towards living with the coronavirus.