Pakistan's top religious authority on Friday called for the early distribution of Zakat -- an obligatory annual charity in Islam -- to support those with low incomes who are most vulnerable to an imminent economic slowdown due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Council of Islamic Ideology, a religious advisory body for the country's parliament, urged the rich to give their zakat, which accounts for 2.5% of the total yearly savings in the form of cash, gold or silver, earlier than usual.

Zakat is traditionally given in the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan which will begin this year in the last week of April.

"In view of the present situation, it is better to distribute zakat earlier than usual," the statement said.

The call coincided with two more deaths from the novel coronavirus on Friday, raising the total number in the country to four.

Pakistan is at risk of facing a major economic crunch due to the global outbreak, having suspended travel with Europe and the U.S. -- the buyers of 70% of the country's exports.

Though authorities have ordered the closure of major markets, shopping malls and other public areas, many who subsist on daily income have not complied.

The number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan rose to 454 on Friday, with 245 in the southern province of Sindh alone.

Health officials said new cases were also reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northeastern Punjab province.

Most of the new patients had recently returned from neighboring Iran, which has reported the highest number of cases after China and Italy.

The novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China last December, and has spread to at least 163 countries and territories. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic.

Out of more than 246,000 confirmed cases, the death toll now exceeds 10,000 and over 86,000 have recovered, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Despite the rising number of cases, most who become infected suffer only mild symptoms and recover.