SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 7 (CNA) - Republican Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris squared off on Thursday (Oct 8) morning Singapore time in the only vice presidential debate ahead of the Nov 3 US election.

Pence and Harris clashed over the Trump administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic during their debate, as the White House struggled to contain an outbreak that has infected President Donald Trump and dozens of others.

The policy-heavy debate stood in stark contrast to last week's chaotic presidential debate, with Harris going on the attack on topics from healthcare to the economy, climate change and foreign policy, and Pence defending the Republican administration's nearly four-year-old record.

"The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," Harris said as the debate began at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

In response, Pence defended the US administration's efforts to battle the disease, including Trump's decision in late January to restrict travel from the pandemic's epicenter in China.

"I want the American people to know that from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first," he said.

The two candidates were separated by plexiglass shields, a reminder of the pandemic that has claimed 210,000 American lives and devastated the economy.

Harris played the traditional attack role of the vice presidential candidate, faulting the Trump administration for trying to invalidate the Affordable Care Act healthcare law in the midst of a pandemic and assailing Trump for reportedly paying US$750 a year in federal income taxes as president.

"When I first heard about it, I literally said, 'You mean US$750,000?'" Harris said, referring to a New York Times investigation. "And it was like, 'No - US$750'."