Saudi Arabia says it has dedicated nine additional laboratories to help investigators track a deadly new respiratory virus related to SARS that appears to be centred in the kingdom.

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A Saudi health ministry official visits patients infected with a new coronavirus at a hospital in the eastern Saudi province of al-Ahsaa last week. (AFP/Getty)

Thursday's Health Ministry announcement follows its report that two health care workers became ill this month after being exposed to patients with the virus. Experts are closely studying whether it can spread easily from person to person.

Since September 2012, the World Health Organization has been informed of 40 confirmed cases of the virus, mostly in Saudi Arabia but also in Europe and Jordan.

At least 20 people have died, including 15 reportedly in Saudi Arabia.