Updated at: 0008 PST, Monday, September 22, 2008
BEIJING: China said nearly 13,000 children were in hospital Sunday after drinking toxic milk powder in a dramatic escalation of Beijing's latest safety scandal.
As the World Health Organization questioned Beijing's handling of the crisis, premier Wen Jiabao appeared on state television promising to head off further incidents.
But a Hong Kong toddler also became the first child affected outside the mainland and more countries moved to bar Chinese milk products.
The health ministry said 12,892 infants were in hospital with 104 babies in serious condition, according to the official news agency.
Some 1,579 babies had been "cured" and discharged, the ministry said, adding that hospitals nationwide had seen almost 40,000. At least four children have died from drinking poisonous baby formula.
The scandal stems from the practice of adding industrial chemical melamine, normally used to make plastics, to watered-down milk to boost apparent protein levels.
Melamine, which causes urinary problems including kidney stones, was first discovered in baby formula and then in liquid milk, yoghurt and ice-cream, leading to mass recalls.
The problem first came to light last week in state-controlled media but New Zealand dairy Fonterra, which has a joint venture with China's Sanlu, has said it knew for weeks and had been pushing for a recall.
Some Chinese press reports have said the scam had been going on for years, with the country's chaotic and corrupt food safety system unable to detect or prevent it.
Shigeru Omi, Western Pacific director of the UN's World Health Organization, on Sunday raised concerns the matter was not reported earlier.