LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan's most populous province has ordered schools shut for five days and told 22.5 million students to stay at home - not because of security fears after gunmen attacked a university but because of cold weather, an official said on Tuesday.
Punjab province Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan said a large number of children were catching flu and pneumonia as temperatures fell to as low as four degrees Celsius (39.2°F) in the capital, Lahore, and a severe shortage of gas left schools unable to heat themselves.
"Two days ago, parents complained about the harshness of weather and diseases to children," Khan told Reuters.
"The meteorological office, too, told the government that the wave of extreme cold would continue for another three to four days. We took all stakeholders in confidence and made the decision to announce holidays."
Khan denied that the province's more than 100,000 government and private schools were shut because of militant threats, despite recent warnings that militants were planning to attack educational institutions.
A deadly assault by Pakistani Taliban gunmen on Bacha Khan University in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last week has heightened concern about the threat to schools and colleges.
Schools in the northwest had closed the previous weekend, before the raid, after warnings of an attack.
Punjab shut its schools for two months after the Taliban massacred 134 children at an army-run school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in December 2014.
Northern Pakistan's winter can be particularly tough as the country's chronic shortage of energy often leaves homes and schools without electricity and gas.
Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari; Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Robert Birsel