The epidemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) began in China and had spread rapidly to many other countries. This study aimed to identify risk factors associated with delayed negative conversion of SARS-CoV-2 in COVID-19 patients. In this retrospective single-centre study, we included 169 consecutive patients with confirmed COVID-19 in Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University from 15th January to 2nd March. The cases were divided into two groups according to the median time of SARS-CoV-2 negative conversion. The differences between groups were compared. In total, 169 patients had a median virus negative conversion time of 18 days (interquartile range: 11–25) from symptom onset. Compared with the patients with short-term negative conversion, those with long-term conversion had an older age, higher incidence of comorbidities, chief complaints of cough and chest distress/breath shortness and severer illness on admission, higher level of leucocytes, neutrophils, aspartate aminotransferase, creatine kinase and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), lower level of CD3+CD4+ lymphocytes and albumin and more likely to receive mechanical ventilation. In multivariate analysis, cough, leucocytes, neutrophils and ESR were positively correlated with delayed virus negative conversion, and CD3+CD4+ lymphocytes were negatively correlated. The integrated indicator of leucocytes, neutrophils and CD3+CD4+ lymphocytes showed a good performance in predicting the negative conversion within 2 weeks (area under ROC curve (AUC) = 0.815), 3 weeks (AUC = 0.804), 4 weeks (AUC = 0.812) and 5 weeks (AUC = 0.786). In conclusion, longer quarantine periods might be more justified for COVID-19 patients with cough, higher levels of leucocytes, neutrophils and ESR and lower levels of CD3+CD4+ lymphocytes.