German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she felt the partial loosening of restrictions this week had led to excessive "reopening discussions orgies" in some federal states about how and when to end lockdown measures.
She made the comments, choosing a particularly descriptive term for Germany's keenness to emerge from partial lockdown, during a party conference call on Monday.
Her warning comes as Germans flocked to the shops on Monday. Small stores, car and bicycle dealers, and bookstores re-opened, under an agreement Merkel reached with state leaders last Wednesday.
Germany is currently the country with the fifth highest number of COVID-19 infections, but it has seen a slowdown in transmission rates following a partial lockdown and social distancing regulations in mid March.
Endless discussions about swift further easing of restrictions were not helpful, said Merkel. Germany must stay cautious and disciplined to avoid running the risk of increasing transmission levels again.
"We stand at the beginning of the pandemic and are still a long way from being out of the woods," Mekel told journalists in Berlin.
It would be a "crying shame if we were to stumble into a relapse with our eyes wide open".
The hashtag #Öffnungsdiskussionsorgien (reopening discussion orgies, loosely translated) was trending second place on German Twitter on Monday afternoon.
Germany's public service broadcaster ZDF tweeted: "Angela Merkel criticizes "#Öffnungsdiskussionsorgien" – but often wins at Scrabble." – referring to the popular board game, but apparently forgetting that players only receive seven letters in it.
Bettina Stark-Watzinger from the opposition liberal Free Democrat Party (FDP), was not amused: "The current restrictions should be justified every day. A debate about how we can moderately regain our freedoms is essential for our democracy. Merkel should therefore not dismiss discussions as #Öffnungsdiskussionsorgien!" she tweeted.
But Merkel cautioned state leaders against further easing restrictions. "We must remain vigilant and disciplined," she said.
Owing to Germany's federal system, states are largely responsible for how they enact restrictions to curb the novel coronavirus. Among Merkel's conservative allies, North Rhine-Westphalia's state premier Armin Laschet has been among those most keen to relax the shutdown, while Bavaria's Markus Söder has been calling for a gradual approach.
In Germany, more than 4,600 people have died from complications caused by the novel coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins figures. At least 145,000 people have tested positive.
kmm, rg/msh (dpa, Reuters, AP)