Mainland media outlets have been ordered to tone down their coverage of the tainted powdered milk scandal as the public become increasingly dismayed by what has been perceived as mishandling of the crisis by authorities. Major print media such as the China Youth Daily limited their coverage of the tainted milk formula scandal yesterday by running only flashes from Xinhua. One news editor with China Central Television said they had been ordered to stick to Xinhua copy in reporting the scandal, although first-hand reporting would still be allowed as long as it followed the official line. Another source with CCTV said they were given orders late on Friday not to go ahead with any more news features related to the tainted dairy products produced by Sanlu Group that have left at least two babies dead and sickened more than 1,200, many of whom have developed kidney stones. Some other reporters also confirmed that mainland news organisations had been banned from running any commentaries on the substandard dairy products and the baby sickness. Media organisations in Hebei have slipped into virtual silence over the massive scandal after provincial propaganda authorities had reportedly issued a gag order for local media to stop 'cooking up' stories. Sanlu is based in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang . A CCTV reporter said mainland reporters had never been allowed to report freely on 'negative news' such as this scandal, so their news teams have begun to shift their focus to preparations for the coverage of the launch of the Shenzhou VII manned spaceship later this month. Although censorship - believed to be largely orchestrated by the Communist Party's Central Publicity Department, which usually cites the national interest or local protectionism - is almost a daily occurrence on the mainland, the apparent gag order came as an issue is being raised over why authorities delayed so long in acknowledging the problem despite repeated alerts. Quoting Sanlu's sales representatives in Gansu , mainland media reported that management at Sanlu began to take notice of the substandard dairy products in June, but it did not order a recall or suspend production until last month. According to mainland reports, doctors had begun to raise the alarm in July over babies developing kidney stones, but their warnings had largely fallen on deaf ears. But Ma Xiaowei, deputy director of the Ministry of Health, sought to defend the authorities' handling of the crisis yesterday, saying that the ministry's response to the scandal had been swift. Wang Yu, a department head at the ministry, added that linking the sickened babies to the tainted milk formula could be established only after an investigation. What's more, he said, reaching any conclusion is particularly difficult given the country's vast landmass. Meanwhile, Sanlu Group issued an apology yesterday to the public for the contamination in its milk powder. Zhang Zhenling, Sanlu's vice-president, read a letter of apology at a news briefing at company headquarters in Shijiazhuang, saying: 'Sanlu Group expresses its sincerest apologies to you.'