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Since the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19, the world is being shaken to its core with numerous hospitalizations and hundreds of thousands of deaths. In search for key targets of effective therapeutics, robust animal models mimicking COVID-19 in humans are urgently needed. Here, we show that productive SARS-CoV-2 infection in the lungs of mice is limited and restricted by early type I interferon responses. In contrast, we show that Syrian hamsters are highly permissive to SARS-CoV-2 and develop bronchopneumonia and a strong inflammatory response in the lungs with neutrophil infiltration and edema. Moreover, we identify an exuberant innate immune response as a key player in pathogenesis, in which STAT2 signaling plays a dual role, driving severe lung injury on the one hand, yet restricting systemic virus dissemination on the other. Finally, we assess SARS-CoV-2-induced lung pathology in hamsters by micro-CT alike used in clinical practice. Our results reveal the importance of STAT2-dependent interferon responses in the pathogenesis and virus control during SARS-CoV-2 infection and may help rationalizing new strategies for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. ### Competing Interest Statement D.D.V., B.S., and X.S. are named as inventors on US patent application no. 62/988,610, entitled 'Coronavirus Binders'. D.D.V., B.S., X.S., and N.C. are named as inventors on US patent application no. 62/991,408, entitled 'SARS-CoV-2 Virus Binders'.

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