The Health Ministry now says that six deaths can be attributed to tainted baby milk powder and that 294,000 infants were hospitalized after drinking the melamine-contaminated formula.
That is a large advance on the last numbers made public, in September, when the scandal first broke: four dead and 53,000 hospitalized. In October, without updating those numbers, the ministry had said that 10,066 children remained in hospital with eight in serious condition. It says now that 861 are still admitted, and that 154 were in serious condition. Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that the death toll from the tainted formula was at least five higher than official figure.
Apart from raising the official number to six, the ministry says it investigated five other deaths but ruled out melamine as the cause. The new numbers are not likely to dissipate the anger being expressed by bereaved parents or their frustration at the obstacles being put in their way in seeking legal redress.
Meanwhile, China’s dairy exports have all but come to standstill; down 92% in October compared to the same month a year earlier, as countries put import bans in place. Those imposed by the U.S. will be on the agenda at the scheduled bilateral meeting in Beijing later this week — one reason the new numbers may have come out now.