He said this restriction is a public health policy which had been in place all the time but is now being enforced vigilantly in the wake of the latest H1N1 outbreak.
"We are now limiting the visitors, especially those aged 12 and below.
It is a good time to enforce this policy more strictly. We will not lift the enforcement although it becomes relaxed in its natural course as time goes by.
"The first case of Avian Influenza A (H7N9) virus infection reported in the country in Sabah remains one. If after seven days (from the day of that detection, that is February 11), they do not detect any new case and it is contained, then it will be considered not an epidemic. Today (Feb. 14) is only the third day, so we are on the alert until Feb. 18," Dr Tan told Api-Api Assemblywoman Christina Liew, who called on the latter for an update on the latest incidence of seven cases of H1Ni (reported between Jan. 29 and Feb. 2) and H7N9 in Sabah.
The 67-year-old tourist from China was holidaying in a resort in a district on Feb. 7 when she became increasingly weak. She then sought treatment at a private clinic before being referred to the district hospital.
She was treated at the Emergency Department for respiratory failure and subsequently transferred to a private hospital in the State capital (as requested by the patient).
Following the first screening on Feb. 9, she tested positive for Avian Influenza A (H7N9) in a confirmation test on a second sample on Feb. 11.
To a query, Dr Tan agreed that respiratory failure could also be due to pneumonia, cancer of the lung or cancer metastasis Stage 4, and not necessarily attributed to H7N9.
While in her country, the visitor had sought treatment for symptoms of fever, cough, flu, runny nose, joint pain and general weakness for four days from Jan. 30 before arriving in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 3. She arrived in Sandakan on Feb. 4 and stayed there until Feb. 6 before leaving for Kota Kinabalu.
According to Dr Tan, there are fewer admissions of late as people now do not come to the hospital unnecessarily.
"They may think twice about coming to the hospital. One could be fear and it is also probably true that those who have a problem do not want to come.
We cannot tell the percentage, which is which but all these have contributed to the 25pc drop in admissions and outpatient activities.
"This was because people were asking for their medical appointments to be deferred if possible," he said.
On why the public were not alerted immediately on the recent H1N1 outbreak, Dr Tan explained it is no longer considered a pandemic virus since there were no H1N1 deaths after 2010.
He also made it clear that H1Ni is not the most deadly virus in the country, saying "HIV is still here and TB is still actively being brought in by foreigners."
Going by World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, it is now regarded as a seasonal flu. "However, we are not taking the situation hands down and the whole state is on alert.
I have frozen leave for my staff. "Although there is lesser unnecessary admission, I think, I tell everybody who calls me that if they need to come to the hospital, do come.
I am still here, alive," he said.
Liew wanted to know why the general population was not screened for H7N9, apart from the exercise being carried out at entry points in the country, since it would be possible for people with the virus to be roaming in the streets.
In response, the Director attributed it to Malaysia's huge population but contended that while available resources at the gateways (airports) are being utilised, the most cost-effective way of stopping transmission would be self-declaration.
"If you have got any flu symptoms, cough, sore throat or fever above 38 degrees Celsius, or ILI (Influenza-Like Illness), please go to the nearest health clinic and self-declare and we will do the needful (throat swab carried out by the hospital with the support of the Public Health Laboratory)," he advised.
On people in the hospital lobby wearing masks, Dr Tan said the practice is encouraged among members of the public.
Echoing Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam, he said the chance of human to human infection was very remote.
"There is very little evidence to show human to human transmission but we know infected poultry to human infection is there," he said.