Saudi Arabia has reduced the number of pilgrims that may perform the Hajj this year due to construction work that will expand the holy site of Mecca, the Hajj minister said. 
The authorities had decided to reduce by half the number of pilgrims coming from within Saudi Arabia, and by about 20 per cent those from abroad, said Bandar Hajjar.
“This is an exceptional and temporary decision,” the minister said, quoted by SPA state news agency late on Saturday.
Some 3.1 million pilgrims performed the Hajj last year, most of them from abroad.
“The expansion plans [of the Al Masjid Al Haram ] aim to provide safety and as much services as possible for pilgrims, Hajjar said.
The mosque expansion projects are aimed at enabling pilgrims to complete their Haj and Umrah rites with ease. The Mataf [the circumambulation areas around the Kaaba , the heart of Al Masjid Al Haram] will also see expansion, he noted.
Hajjar said the works on the Grand Mosque would increase capacity by 400,000 square metres, increasing the capacity to 2.2 million.
The mosque houses the Kaaba — the cube-shaped structure towards which Muslims pray.
The decision was finalised as Saudi Arabia battles the spread of the Sars-like MERS virus, which has killed 28 people in the kingdom since September out of 33 victims worldwide.
This year the Hajj falls in October.