Armin Laschet, the new leader of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), warned against controlling the pandemic based only on incidence rates in comments that appeared to critique the current government COVID-19 strategy.
"You can't always invent new limit values to prevent life from happening again," said Laschet at the digital New Year's reception of the Baden-Württemberg state association of the CDU Economic Council.
"We cannot measure our whole life just by incidence rates," he said, pointing out that there's damage to society and the economy as well.
Laschet, also Minister-President of Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, did emphasise that the virus and its mutations must be taken seriously.
But he thinks "the popular attitude is to forbid everything, to be strict, to treat citizens like underage children," he said at the meeting, according to the BILD newspaper.
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Söder have spoken out against easing restrictions too quickly by opening schools and shops.
At the federal-state meeting last week, the state heads of government and Merkel agreed to extend the current lockdown until March 7.
Merkel said last week that in order to relax lockdown measures, the seven-day incidence rate needs to be 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants amid the emergence of new variants.
"The position of Armin Laschet is problematic. The limit value of 35 was not 'invented' but derived from the higher R value of the mutation B117," tweeted Karl Lauterbach, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in parliament and a professor of epidemiology, who was referring to the higher transmissibility of the British variant.
"The citizens are also not 'patronised', but protected by rules legitimised in parliament. Of course we would have liked to open the schools. But a third wave is looming, and therefore school openings in countries must be prepared," Lauterbach added.
Katja Mast, the deputy chair of the SPD parliamentary group, said that anyone who speaks of "'invented limit values' like Laschet destroys trust in the coronavirus measures."
In Germany, the number of new COVID infections is falling nationwide.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reports a nationwide seven-day incidence rate of 59, and the number of coronavirus-related deaths is slowly falling.
Germany has recorded 2.35 million cases since the beginning of the pandemic and more than 65,000 deaths.