BEIJING (AP) -- Some Chinese dairy companies will likely have to pay for a compensation plan being prepared by the government for families of hundreds of thousands of children sickened by tainted milk powder, the Health Ministry said Wednesday.
The ministry said last week that six babies likely died and 294,000 infants suffered urinary problems from drinking milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.
"I think that the likelihood is high that the compensation will come from the companies, because the government is now paying for the screening of the children and other related treatments," ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an told The Associated Press after a news conference.
"Future payments should be made by the companies responsible for this," he said when asked if he believed the dairy companies that sold the contaminated milk would foot the bill for the compensation.
Ma said at the briefing that details on the compensation were still being worked out.
"From what I understand, the relevant department is holding final discussions on the plan," he said.
The scandal has been met with public anger, particularly among parents who feel the government breached their trust after their children were sickened from drinking infant formula authorities had certified as safe.
The government has promised free medical treatment to the children who were sickened, plus unspecified compensation to them and families of the dead.
Mao said he was not authorized to discuss the details of the plan and could not give a timeframe for when it will be announced, but said it should be soon.
Mao said the ministry, which is coordinating the government's response to the crisis, is further verifying data for the number of children sickened, hospitalized and other related figures.
"This process is for us to prepare for further investigations we are making into this incident and also for the next step of adopting the compensation scheme," Mao said.
Thousands of parents have been clamoring for compensation for their sickened and dead children.
At least a dozen individual lawsuits have been filed against state-owned Sanlu Group Co., the Chinese dairy at the center of the scandal, but are caught in a legal limbo as courts have neither accepted nor refused the cases -- a sign of the scandal's political sensitivity.
Earlier this week, dozens of families who say their children were sickened after drinking tainted milk filed a group lawsuit against Sanlu to seek nearly 14 million yuan ($2 million) in compensation. But the court in Hebei province rejected the suit, saying government departments were still investigating.