Mike pence and kamala harris clashed over donald trumps response to coronavirus pandemic during their vice-presidential debate on wednesday night, with the democratic challenger accusing the president of the greatest failure in the history of the office.

In contrast with last weeks presidential debate, mr pence, the incumbent, and ms harris, a california senator, avoided name-calling. but they collided at the start over the administrations handling of a disease that has cost more than 200,000 american lives.

The american people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any president in the history of our country, ms harris said, accusing the trump administration of keeping the truth about coronavirus from the american people at the start of the year.

They knew what was happening and they didnt tell you. ms harris said looking into the camera. they knew and they covered it up.

Mr pence rebuffed ms harriss criticism, arguing that health experts had warned the administration that the virus could kill more than 200,000 americans even with the best preventive measures.

He defended the administrations decision to shut down travel from china early this year and accused the biden campaign of copying details of the administrations coronavirus recovery programme for its own plan.

It looks a little bit like plagiarism,which is something joe biden knows something about, mr pence said, referring to accusations that during his 1988 campaign for the democratic presidential nomination, mr biden lifted details of a speech by british politician neil kinnock.

The debate between mr pence and ms harris went ahead despite concerns about the spread of covid-19 in the white house after mr trump tested positive for the virus just two days after debating joe biden last week.

The incumbent republican vice-president and democratic challenger sat 12 feet apart behind plexiglas shields during the 90-minute debate at the university of utah in salt lake city.

Mr pence was asked about mr trump, who was hospitalised at the weekend but returned to the white house on monday evening. mr trump has attracted criticism for not taking precautions to prevent his infection and for playing down the severity of the disease.

In the debate, mr pence defended the white houses decision to host a rose garden ceremony celebrating the nomination of amy coney barrett to the supreme court. although multiple attendees of the event later tested positive for the virus, mr pence said the white house had followed the advice of medical professionals by holding the ceremony outdoors, failing to mention there was an indoor portion to the ceremony as well.

The difference here is president trump and i trust the american people to make choices in the best interest of their health. were about freedom and respecting the freedom of the american people, mr pence declared.

The vice-president accused ms harris of pushing a far-left agenda on issues such as climate change and the green new deal, claiming that a biden administration would raise taxes on middle-class americans and ban fracking two things mr biden has said he will not do.

There are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 yearsago, but many climate alarmists use hurricanes and fires to try and sell the green new deal, mr pence said.

Ms harris warned that another four years of a trump administration would mean an end to the affordable care act, which expanded access to health coverage.

If you have a pre-existing condition, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they are coming for you. if you love someone who has a pre-existing condition, they are coming for you. if you are under the age of 26 on your parents' coverage, they are coming for you, ms harris said.

Mr trump has claimed that even though he wants to get rid of the affordable care act, patients with pre-existing conditions will be able to obtain insurance.

The trump campaign is facing an uphill battle heading into election day, with mr biden leading in all big national polls as well as most surveys of key battleground states, with the vote less than a month away.