Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the causative agent of the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Alongside investigations into the virology of SARS-CoV-2, understanding the fundamental physiological and immunological processes underlying the clinical manifestations of COVID-19 is vital for the identification and rational design of effective therapies. Here, we provide an overview of the pathophysiology of SARS-CoV-2 infection. We describe the interaction of SARS-CoV-2 with the immune system and the subsequent contribution of dysfunctional immune responses to disease progression. From nascent reports describing SARS-CoV-2, we make inferences on the basis of the parallel pathophysiological and immunological features of the other human coronaviruses targeting the lower respiratory tract – severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Finally, we highlight the implications of these approaches for potential therapeutic interventions that target viral infection and/or immunoregulation.