In December 2019, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which is caused by the new coronavirus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified in Wuhan (Hubei province, China)1; it soon spread across the world. In this ongoing pandemic, public health concerns and the urgent need for effective therapeutic measures require a deep understanding of the epidemiology, transmissibility and pathogenesis of COVID-19. Here we analysed clinical, molecular and immunological data from 326 patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in Shanghai. The genomic sequences of SARS-CoV-2, assembled from 112 high-quality samples together with sequences in the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) dataset, showed a stable evolution and suggested that there were two major lineages with differential exposure history during the early phase of the outbreak in Wuhan. Nevertheless, they exhibited similar virulence and clinical outcomes. Lymphocytopenia, especially reduced CD4+ and CD8+ T cell counts upon hospital admission, was predictive of disease progression. High levels of interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8 during treatment were observed in patients with severe or critical disease and correlated with decreased lymphocyte count. The determinants of disease severity seemed to stem mostly from host factors such as age and lymphocytopenia (and its associated cytokine storm), whereas viral genetic variation did not significantly affect outcomes.